Careful regard needed to identify and prioritise 5G mmWave use cases

While 24-100 GHz band of 5G comms increasingly used for indoor/outdoor congested network hot zones, fixed wireless access and indoor enterprise, analyst cautions that deployment of 5G mmWave technology poses challenges beyond physical characteristics

Three years after 5G communications were officially commercialised, most of the deployments are still primarily focused on 5G mid-band, and the development of 5G mmWave technology has also been underway – but research firm IDTechEx has reported that while the technology offers faster data transfer rates, low latency and higher bandwidth compared with the previous wireless technology, the benefits may not be enough to justify the significant investment required to deploy it.

Putting a stake in the ground of its research, 5G market 2023-2033: Technology, trends, forecasts, players, IDTechEx defined mmWave 5G as operating in high-frequency bands between 24-100 GHz, primarily used right now for three use cases: indoor/outdoor congested network hot zones; fixed wireless access; and indoor enterprise.

However, the analyst cautioned that deployment of 5G mmWave technology poses challenges beyond its physical characteristics, such as shorter range and susceptibility to interference. One significant challenge noted by IDTechEx is what it called a lack of compelling business use cases that justify its cost and deployment challenges. Therefore, the analyst warned that careful thought was required to identify and prioritise the use cases to provide the most significant impact and return on investment.

Looking at the first use case, the analysis noted that hotspots such as stadiums, transportation hubs and congested areas require high-bandwidth connectivity for both indoor and outdoor users. This deployment type is common for mmWave in all countries with commercialised 5G, but IDTechEx observed that monetising this enhanced connectivity remains an issue for operators.

It added that increasing revenue from consumers upgrading from 4G to 5G has been challenging, and doubts remain about the feasibility of selling 5G mmWave passes for events. Additionally, users must have compatible handsets, and the analysis believes that the device ecosystem is not yet mature in many countries, and that the experience needs to be “exceptional” for consumers to justify upgrading their devices for occasional events.

IDTechEx said fixed wireless access (FWA) provides wireless internet access to homes and businesses, offering faster deployment times, lower costs and greater flexibility compared with fibre. It emphasised that in 2023, Ericsson and Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) achieved a record of connectivity up to 1 Gbps at distances of 11.2 km (using mmWave) in line-of-sight scenarios in Malaysia.

While FWA is therefore promoted by telecom operators as an ideal offering for remote or rural areas and places where laying fibre is difficult – Indian telco operator Reliance Jio aims to ultimately connect 100 million locations with its FWA – IDTechEx said the current bottleneck lies in the cost of customer premises equipment (CPE), which is currently around US$200-$300 per unit, making it unaffordable for most consumers in targeted emerging markets.

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Assessing the use of mmWave private networks in indoor enterprises such as factories, IDTechEx said conversations with several industry leaders have led it to believe mmWave technology will be selected only for mission-critical applications, such as robots with high-definition cameras in the production line that need to upload videos or photos quickly. And as an open line-of-sight setting is required for mmWave, IDTechEx’s best knowledge, sub-6 GHz 5G bands are the most preferred choice for many smart factories embracing 5G technology when compared with mmWave.

IDTechEx projects the proportion of enterprise network deployment between sub-6 GHz and mmWave in such settings to be around 80-90% vs 10-20%, respectively, at least in the next five to six years.

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