What is fixed wireless 5G? Here’s everything you need to know

If 2019 tech will be remembered for anything, it’ll be 5G. It’s about to make a huge impact in the way we experience wireless connectivity. While often talked about in reference to mobile devices, 5G extends beyond that. It will apply to your everyday home internet connection too — through something called fixed wireless. You’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming year.

5G promises far faster speeds for mobile phones, and reduces the latency or delay inherent in most networks. That means communication will be instantaneous, VR will be as smooth as butter, and all sorts of crazy new concepts will be made possible. And with fixed wireless, all that technology comes right into your home.

What is it, anyways?

fixed wireless 5g lte advanced cell tower

So how does fixed wireless differ from traditional wireless internet? Well, for starters, in more traditional internet setups, a cable goes all the way to a house. The homeowner buys a router they can hook up, plugs it in, and updates as they wish.

With fixed wireless, there are no cables required. Instead, a “fixed” antenna is installed on the house, similar to how a satellite dish might be installed. This antenna then creates a wireless connection with a nearby wireless tower, which can connect to many antennas at the same time.

When the fixed antenna receives the signal, it can send the connection down a short cable and into the house, where it can link up to a router or other device as needed. Inside the house, once 5G devices are out in the world, you may not notice anything is different at all.

How 5G service works

t mobile harrisx 5g consumer index sign is pictured at the quantum stand mwc
Miquel Benitez/Getty Images

Like other wireless connections, 5G does operate on the radio spectrum, but in a very different way from past wireless internet options. It can run on the low-band, mid-band, or high-band spectrum, and different carriers are already busy experimenting with different bands using their own technology.

As of now, most of the current interest is high-band spectrum 5G using millimeter wave (mmWave) technology. The result is a combination of beamforming and direct wireless connections with mobile devices. If you’ve read anything about MU-MIMO, it is helpful to think of 5G as a massively up-scaled version of a similar technology, able to deliver wireless connections to a whole geographic area.

You can learn much more about 5G applications with our guide here, but for now let’s talk about the main benefits of switching to this new wireless standard.

Reduced connectivity costs: Fixed line installation for high-speed internet is a big pain. In many urban areas, fixed-line infrastructure is so expensive to install and maintain that it’s not even worth it. Rural areas face similar problems due to such large installation spaces. 5G solves these problems by greatly decreasing the physical infrastructure needed to provide reliable internet. This should make reliable internet services available for many areas that previously had no access to it.

Faster speeds: Experiments with 5G wireless have yielded very high speeds, even up to 1,000Mbps.

Fewer latency issues: 5G has very, very low latency compared to other wireless connections. That’s convenient for consumers, but it also means that 5G can be used in many important professional tasks where a dependable connection is essential.

Lower energy use: 5G takes relatively little energy to connect and transmit data compared to current online connection options.

Expected speeds

sprint 5g rollout

We mentioned speeds of up to 1,000Mbps, but those are target speeds in highly controlled environments with technology that’s not out on the market yet.

True fixed wireless 5G, as it’s arriving, will have speeds that are comparable to current average internet speeds – around 30Mbps to 300Mbps. That, of course, depends on the location and service being offered. Verizon, for example, is promising speeds of around 300Mbps, but says some locations could see peak speeds of nearly 1Gb. AT&T, the only other company that has launched 5G devices, isn’t giving any speed information.

Keep in mind, however, that 5G won’t have some of the problems of current wireless networks, like latency issues or distortion. This might make the signal seem faster, based on your experiences, even if the specific data speeds aren’t that different.

In the future, as the 5G rollout continues, you can expect speeds to start increasing toward that 1Gb marker and perhaps beyond. Lab speeds have reached 4.5Gbps, although it’s difficult to know how long this will take to achieve.

5G installation

fixed wireless 5g verizon

So, if the final step to 5G is wireless, what does the installation look like? Obviously it’s “fixed,” but does that mean you’ll be seeing new wireless towers go up in your area?

Probably not. In fact, it may be difficult to notice true 5G installations at all. All the broadcasting station requires is a simple antenna. In more urban areas, these will be easily installed on existing cell towers, buildings, and similar locations. In suburban and rural areas, it’s possible that more towers may need to be built. 5G’s broadcast radius is currently rather small, and existing towers in these areas may not have enough overlap for the service. Companies like T-Mobile are working to potentially improve the radius with different radio spectrums, so this won’t be as pressing an issue in the future.

At home, a receiver unit is also required. This will be a simple device, much like the current “Customer Premise Equipment” that fixed line connections currently require, such as gateways or cable boxes. Setup is expected to be easy enough to allow for self-installation in most cases. D-Link already has a 5G-enabled router, promising speeds of forty times your current broadband connection. How’s that for fast?

Pricing options for 5G

5g Networks and Phones | Tech Trends to watch for at CES 2019

Verizon’s First on 5G program is only available in select areas of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento: The first three months of the service are free, and after that it costs $70 per month, with potential deals for those who have Verizon Wireless phone plans. You also receive an Apple TV or Google Chromecast, and three free months of YouTube TV. There are no equipment or installation charges for this service, at least at this stage.

Now, because 5G isn’t quite up and running yet, Verizon is cheating a little here. The company is using a proprietary 5GTF standard to simulate “true” 5G as closely as possible until the equipment is ready for the upgrade to the real 3GPP 5G standard, which should happen in 2019. There will be no charges for this upgrade, and it should be an easy process, as the current equipment is prepared for the standard upgrade.

Expect to see the pre-standard 5G replaced with 5G NR in the coming months as the city updates its hardware and software. Verizon plans to deploy fixed 5G to additional locations across the country in 2019, though it has not named cities just yet.

So far, Verizon is the first to actually announce a 5G pricing plan, which makes this a likely standard for other telecom providers to follow when they introduce their own 5G plans. AT&T, for example, is very close to releasing its own plan, and is unlikely to charge much more than Verizon’s rates. It’s even spoken about bundles such as gaming or IoT-focused options with tiered billing structures.

Similarly, T-Mobile has big plans underway. In a statement submitted to the FCC in late 2018, T-Mobile predicted it would have fixed wireless 5G in more than 1.9 million homes by 2021. We expect to hear more firm details from all three major ISPs throughout the year.

Note: Always be careful when looking at 5G offerings. Whenever a big new technology label like “5G” comes along, there’s always some rebranding efforts that try to paper over old technologies with a new name. This is already happening with 5G. Look at the specs, offered services, and technology used to make sure it’s actually 5G. As always, a little research goes a long way.

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