Will 5G come to the rescue of rural Ireland ?

Will 5G come to the rescue of rural Ireland ?

We thought that 5G could be the best hope rural areas have when it comes to getting high-speed internet access.  But we fear that nothing will change enough to make a difference and the have-nots will still go without. Here we are in April 2019 and I fear that will be the case — we’re certain now it will never be the panacea that was promised.

Network

Some time ago carriers were saying that spectrum licensing would be the greatest hurdle to being able to provide rural broadband using 5G technology. Then that it wasn’t the end-point service causing the issues, it was the backhaul. Granted every network needs enough backhaul to provide data to all the end users. Think of backhaul as a massive big water pipe that the smaller water pipes feeding our homes are connected to. The big pipe has to be big enough so that it can stay full when all the smaller pipes are draining from it. Data works like water: it can only flow if the source can provide enough to feed every user. Hence one of the motivations for the NBP (National broadband plan), the fibre solution.

These backhaul networks can come in different types, like fiber, or coaxial, or even microwave links. One thing they all have in common is that you can’t connect to them in order to have 5G service on your phone or laptop. For that, you’ll need to be close to an end-point of the service (a cell site). Current cellular data networks are mostly the same, they aren’t there for you to get LTE service they just transport data, you need an actual cell tower to connect to.

To have 5G, using higher frequency bands, blanketing an area means you need hundreds or perhaps thousands of small cell sites. Each one costs money to build, install, and maintain. No carrier or broadband ISP has plans for a stand-alone 5G network any time soon. In fact, we believe none have seriously discussed the idea yet. What carriers will be deploying is an NSA (non-stand-alone) 5G network that depends on a strong 4G LTE service to run with it in tandem. A combination of your phone, the closest cell-site, and the data you’re fetching decides when you need to attach to a 5G signal and use the additional bandwidth it offers. Most of the time your phone or tablet will be using the existing 4G LTE a broadband service that already exists.

Furthermore wireless data services are dependent on external influences which are out of the control of the provider ans often lead to a serious degradation in service like weather for instance.

When you take these factors above into account, you quickly see that 5G deployment in rural areas means a huge outpouring of cash from carriers, who have shown time and time again that they dislike pouring out cash. I’m afraid that all the talk and promises made to the Oireachtas saying 5G is all about serving rural areas is nothing more than just that: marketing jargon.

Deployment

There are other ways to deploy 5G that don’t need a swarm of tiny cell sites, like midband and lower frequency technologies, however each of these technologies has their own set of problems. They can use the existing networks to deliver more data using carrier aggregation and aggressive scheduling, however they all depend on already deployed technologies. So if nothing is currently deployed there will be no 5G available.

We’re excited about 5G and love watching how it will evolve and how it gets deployed, but we’re almost certain that it won’t be the saviour that fixes rural broadband internet connectivity problems anytime soon. Only fibre to the premises can deliver that.

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