If you are, think again! In the cellular value chain, the most conservative and last holdouts in making any kind of public announcements are usually operators. Vendors could make all the noise they want, but nothing gives, unless and until operators endorse it. And  the ringing endorsement they did! On Sep 10th, 2018, both the big brothers of cellular industry in the USA, AT&T and Verizon announced first calls on their respective commercial networks using 5G millimeter wave smartphone form factor devices.  This came less than 96 hours after Ericsson and Qualcomm’s announcement that I described as the last major step before commercial smartphones.

If you are feeling 5G is moving at crazy speed, you are right, because it is. You don’t see cellular operators move this fast, and that too in locked-steps, so much so that both the announcements came exactly on the same day, with the same vendors, Ericsson and Qualcomm. I can only imagine what a juggling act that would have been for both the vendors.

It is remarkable to see how the outlook of mmWave has transformed in the last year or so. Not too far ago, it was a big swath of spectrum with limited use, and considered undoubtedly unusable for cellular networks. But now it is considered as the prized possession, and a beacon of hope for the spectrum starved cellular operators. The journey has been methodical and consistent – starting from proving the non-LoS (Line of Sight) capability of mmWave, to outdoor usage, to the ability to fit it in a smartphone form factor.

The last remaining doubt in the curious minds is looking at the actual testing details and performance results. However, in absence of actual test data, there are ample cues  regarding how robust the performance is or could be. For example, AT&T’s press release states “…We’ve been encouraged by the performance of mmWave in our 5G trials and found that it performs better than expected and is successful in delivering ultra-high wireless speeds under a variety of conditions….”

Additionally, how the operators deployment plans have evolved also give clues on how their confidence in mmWave’s viability has solidified. For example, Verizon has been very vocal about its initial 5G deployments in four cities. Their claims of offering 5G mobile service using mmWave have also gotten bolder over time. Knowing how Verizon prides and differentiates itself with its “Better Network” claim, their strong statement about offering mobile services with millimeter wave carries more weight than just mere words in a press release. AT&T on their part have expanded their 5G launch cities to 19, and announced their full list of infrastructure partners. They even explained their approach on how they complement low, and medium band spectrum with millimeter wave, which makes perfect sense.

Of course, it goes without saying how Infrastructure vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei, as well as device chipset vendor Qualcomm have shown numerous demonstrations of millimeter wave in action. The notable thing is the strong statements from both the operators in using the smartphone form factor devices, based on Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 modem, in these test calls, and special emphasis on their commitment to launch mobile services with millimeter wave in early 2019. Qualcomm has already announced that 20 odd OEMs are working on 5G devices on their platform.

Even after all of these developments, if you are still skeptical, you don’t have to be for very long; very soon 5G millimeter wave networks are coming to neighborhoods around you.

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