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Fixed Wireless a 'Killer App' for 5G, but Others Will Emerge: IEEE Technologist

5G depends on the allocation of additional licensed spectrum, like the 3.1 GHz band that’s the current focus of federal policymakers (see 2308150066), said Oku Solutions CEO David Witkowski during an IEEE webinar Wednesday. Fixed-wireless access has been described as 5G’s first “killer app,” but there will be others, said Witkowski, also co-chair of the Deployment Working Group of the IEEE Future Networks Technical Community.

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Witkowski said his research shows licensed spectrum contributes more to the U.S. economy than unlicensed. “I know that’s a total religious question, and I’m sure I just alienated half the audience,” he said. “I’m not sure that we need a GHz of Wi-Fi spectrum … just because of the way Wi-Fi performs,” he said: “In the mobile world that amount of spectrum could offer a lot of value.”

All major carriers in the U.S. are offering FWA, Witkowski said. “The challenge is that for massive machine-type communication at scale we still need more 5G core, and currently we’re still seeing the migration from 4G to 5G core,” he said. That much of the network core remains 4G is one of the biggest challenges, he said. “There will be multiple killer apps,” he predicted: “There will be multiple things that the 5G network does allow us to do.”

The enterprise market is probably one of the biggest potential growth areas for 5G “that we have yet to see,” but that also depends on further development of the 5G core, Witkowski said. Carriers know how to reach consumers through TV ads but will also need to develop better channels to reach the business market, he said.

5G is making progress, Witkowski said. “Mobile speeds in the network have been increasing over time,” he said. Several bands have improved their performance and some mid-bands that used to offer 20-30 Mbps speeds are now offering above 100, he said. “The C band is really coming on right now,” he said. Open radio access networks are “still very much a question,” Witkowski said: “There’s a lot of promise to open RAN. On paper it sounds really good. Implementation is a challenge.” DOD has been “very pro open RAN,” he noted.

Industry experts told us the 3.1 GHz band, the subject of advocacy this week by CTIA, will remain a top focus of industry.

The U.S. doesn’t have mid-band left in its spectrum pipeline, and “making this portion of 3.1-3.45 GHz available for 5G services would go a long way to bridge the deficits we currently have compared to international rivals such as China,” emailed Jeff Westling, American Action Forum technology and innovation policy director. CTIA found it’s possible to make the band available without causing disruption to DOD operations, he said: “This may require upgrading equipment, but DOD, and federal incumbents as a whole, should make these upgrades regardless as 5G services are deployed to maximize the value of spectrum generally.”

Westling said it's a problem that “at the end of the day” DOD has few incentives “to make portions of the band available on either an exclusive use or shared basis outside pressure from the White House or Congress.” The band “derailed previous attempts to reauthorize the FCC's auction authority, and it remains to be seen how far the DOD will budge here,” he said.

The coexistence of commercial 5G services and U.S. military radar in the lower 3 GHz band in foreign countries makes a convincing case for doing the same thing in America,” said Free State Foundation Director-Communications Policy Studies Seth Cooper. “If it works abroad, we should expect that it can be done here,” he said.

We should definitely be looking for everywhere we can reuse spectrum in order to get more of it out for consumers,” said Kristian Stout, International Center for Law & Economics director-innovation policy. “If we have a proven example from other countries of coexistence, that should absolutely be on the radar for Congress and the FCC when thinking about new spectrum,” he said.