Testing mmWave 5G networks: A Q&A with GWS

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Dr. Paul Carter is CEO of network benchmarking and analysis company GWS. RCR Wireless News recently reached out to GWS to discuss testing millimeter-wave 5G networks. The following Q&A was conducted via email and has been lightly edited. 

How is benchmark testing different in mmWave, and how is GWS preparing for benchmarking mmWave 5G networks? 

Because mmWave involves a much higher frequency band, the signals do not propagate very far and are easily blocked by structures. At the same time, there is more capacity available at higher frequencies and when combined with small cell deployment, mmWave is ideal for smaller coverage footprints where there are higher concentrations of people – for example, busy pedestrian intersections, shopping malls, tourist

Dr. Paul Carter, CEO, GWS

locations, sporting venues, etc. Our test equipment is set up to collect on mmWave frequencies but testing these types of deployments using traditional drive tests is generally not effective whereas walk testing / backpack testing is optimal. As a result, GWS has initiated a “live, work, play” walk testing program focused on venue-based voice and data testing in the top US markets by population including testing at the U.S.’ busiest airports, rail stations, and top universities.  Overall, GWS has selected roughly 450 locations across the U.S., based on popularity and other related factors.

How will devices factor into the user experience of mmWave? 

Currently, device manufacturers such as Apple, LG, Samsung and others are rolling out 5G handsets with mmWave capability. This should result in a much “speedier,” “frustration free” experience for users – for example, lower latencies, more capacity, faster throughputs will allow today’s users to stream higher definition content, participate in data-demanding gaming apps and so on.  While 5G, in general, holds much more promise in terms of larger, more complex applications (i.e., autonomous driving, smart cities, public safety, remote health, and more), those smartphones with mmWave capabilities are not designed to take advantage of these longer-term, more futuristic activities. In the near term, there may be the possibility of indoor related mmWave solutions (that would compete with cable connectivity) resulting in a new range of devices enabled with 5G connectivity such as modem/routers, computers, tablets, TVs, and IoT sensors.

Operators (that deploy mmWave) also play a role in user experience given that access to their 5G networks is usually initiated first on the network’s LTE platform, and then once the activity is prioritized it’s either carried out on their LTE network or moved to their 5G mmWave network. As a result, the user experience will be limited by those activities the operator pushes to their 5G mmWave network. So, for example, today’s 5G devices may have faster processors, more storage, higher screen resolutions, and more capabilities in general but if the user is simply making a phone call, checking social media, or browsing, then the user experience may not be that much different than what is experienced on today’s 4G networks. On the other hand, if the operator prioritizes and pushes, for example, gaming or high definition streaming activities to the 5G mmWave network then that device should have a positive impact on the user’s experience.

Has GWS conducted any testing yet that provides insights into mmWave deployments, or do you have plans to?

GWS testing has included mmWave deployments. Last year for example, before it was commercially deployed, GWS tested various 5G demonstration projects around the U.S. This year we continue to test both 5G sub 6 and mmWave deployments at venues and at high traffic areas.  For example, early in the year, GWS tested 5G including mmWave at the Super Bowl.  And as part of our live, work, play testing program we are currently establishing test plans at other locations and venues across the U.S. We are also exploring the use of panels to do controlled 5G crowd-sourced testing and combining this effort with in-app surveys to both measure and understand the customer’s 5G experience.

What trends are GWS seeing in its consumer surveys about interest and potential adoption of 5G?

Our most recent survey shows that there is a clear consumer interest in 5G – 76% of those surveyed in the U.S. are either very or somewhat interested in 5G innovation. But just under half surveyed (47%) don’t expect to see any meaningful benefits this year or next.  Correspondingly, just over half (54%) thought 5G deployment should be accelerated to help with the current pandemic crisis.

The consumers’ expectations for when benefits will be realized may be reasonably accurate considering the rate of mmWave deployment across the U.S. combined with the operators’ initial 4G/5G blended network approach.  The big benefits associated with 5G will simply take time to realize as operators must make massive capital investments while redesigning, deploying and building out their national networks.

According to our survey, 5G’s faster data speeds are the benefit that consumers are most excited about for their smartphones (vs. conferencing, streaming content, and gaming).  However, in terms of the big benefits, consumers thought smart cities, telehealth/telemedicine, and public safety (in that order) were the top three market applications that will benefit the most from 5G. There are some differences worth noting, however, when you break this down by age group and location.  Those aged 55 and older had telehealth/telemedicine as their top benefit with public safety as their second choice and smart cities as their third; and similarly, respondents living in rural areas had telehealth/telemedicine first while public safety and smart cities were tied for second.

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