BARCELONA—Sacramento, this is your 5G modem.
At Mobile World Congress here today, Samsung Networks showed off what may be the final version of Verizon’s home 5G equipment. The company’s gigabit home Internet service will debut in Sacramento later this year; Verizon has promised a fixed-wireless 5G service for homes in “three to five cities” in 2018.
Last year, we saw an early form of the 5G home equipment (and in fact gave it a Best of MWC award), but it’s changed a lot in the past year. Formerly a big black slab that looked like a cable box, it has now become a vertically oriented white box about the size of a hardback book, with an Ethernet port on the back. It sits in your window, receives a 5G signal, and then distributes it as Wi-Fi in your home.
Running in Samsung’s booth, the white “consumer premise equipment” (CPE) was quiet, but hot. The only status indicators on the device are four green LEDs recessed into the area where the ports go.
Samsung also showed off the 5G millimeter wave cell site that will serve Verizon’s 5G neighborhood, and the external modem unit that will serve homes where Verizon’s millimeter-wave spectrum can’t make it into the windows.
All of the system’s components are, thankfully, a lot smaller and less obtrusive than we expected. 5G cell sites will be able to sit in “shrouds” on light poles, and are about the size of a backpack. That’s important, because they’ll have to be placed every 500 to 1,000 feet as the fast, millimeter-wave signal doesn’t have much range. The external, weatherproofed antenna unit for the outside of a house is more like the size of a coffee table book. It’s all a heck of a lot less imposing than a satellite dish.
The initial indoor 5G/Wi-Fi Samsung router looks a little like Samsung Connect, its combo SmartThings hub and mesh router, but it won’t have those extra features initially, said Alok Shah, Samsung VP of networks strategy. Samsung is looking to put SmartThings and mesh directly into the 5G router in the future, he said.
Along with the Verizon home equipment, Samsung showed off various 5G uses based on its small, new millimeter-wave 5G units. One of them was a smart city approach where the city is covered in cameras detecting car crashes, illegal U-turns, and even jaywalking, automatically summoning law enforcement or emergency services. That’s too extreme a surveillance society for the US, Shah said, but we agreed that Singapore might be interested. And American cities could take a lower-key approach, like using it to detect traffic accidents.
Millimeter-wave spectrum can be blocked by trees and hills, but Andrea Cardini, Verizon’s VP of field network, east said the whole foliage problem is a little overblown. “For the fixed network, we’re finding how it propagates is much better than what we thought it would be,” she said.
But it sounded like that doesn’t mean Verizon is going to serve every neighborhood in its 5G cities initially. “We’re launching in specific areas based on the marketing and what marketing has asked for,” she said.