mmWave 5G real-world deployments will require very dense networks: report

Verizon announced its first real-world 5G deployments in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis at the beginning of April, and now that the reviews are in, it’s clear that millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G faces a lot of challenges.

FierceWireless spoke with Jeffrey Moore, principal analyst at Wave7 Research, about his experience testing the network in Chicago. Moore conducted his tests using the Motorola Z3 handset with the 5G Moto Mod adapter. Verizon gave him a list of nine cells, and he tested about six of them while walking around Chicago.

Moore said he received a top speed of 500 Mbps during his tests. “It’s very zippy under favorable conditions with line of sight,” he said, but added that mmWave doesn’t penetrate obstacles and it doesn’t travel far. “mmWave technology is very very high frequency, and the signal does not go through any object very well. Attenuation, when you don’t have direct line of sight, is pretty enormous at that very high frequency.”

Verizon and other carriers have said they plan to deploy mmWave 5G in major cities and dense urban environments, where lots of people using mobile devices tend to congregate. But walking around outside in Chicago, he found that the signal was very spotty. “The signal does not go through buildings very well, and it doesn’t travel a great distance,” he said. “When I walked between buildings the signal would quickly drop away.”

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While other reviewers have noted that the 5G signal virtually disappeared the minute a person walks inside a building, Moore conducted a slightly more nuanced test. “I was more concerned with the signal propagation through walls and glass,” Moore said his findings. “That was something that I found to be quite a bit of concern.”

Moore said he tested the signal speed through a pane of glass in a restaurant that was only about 25 yards away from a cell node. “I found that the speeds were roughly halved from what I was getting outside on the street,” he said.

The initial real-world 5G network tests make clear the 5G networks that use mmWave spectrum will face a lot of challenges. “It requires a very, very dense network,” Moore said. “When you measure that against the amount of capital it takes to deploy 5G, there are definitely some concerns about the economics of 5G.”

Overall, Moore said his tests were largely consistent with other reviews of Verizon’s deployment. But, he pointed to an aspect of Verizon’s 5G network launch that he found odd. “I did not see the presence of Verizon’s 5G at stores—not at Verizon stores, not at national retail stores,” he said. “They weren’t trying to sell it. I got the impression this is more of a PR effort than an actual sales effort.”

Wave7 Research noted a similar trend in the markets where Verizon launched its 5G fixed wireless offering late last year.

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“They did run some initial radio ads, but those radio ads ceased on January 20. The active marketing of 5G home seems to have halted,” he said. Wave7 Research also checked at Verizon stores in those markets, and found that those stores don’t seem to be actively selling the service, referring customers instead to a website to learn more about the offering. “Once again, it seems like more of a PR effort than an actual sales effort,” he said.