Regional wireless operator Cellcom’s 5G launch in parts of three largely rural Wisconsin counties is just the beginning of the carrier’s 5G plans. We talked to Cellcom CEO Brighid Riordan and CTO Rick Brooks about those plans.
Cellcom is relying on a combination of low-band and mid-band spectrum for its initial launch, noted Brooks. But the company has suitable spectrum in other markets where it offers mobile service, including millimeter wave spectrum in some markets.
“We’re going to launch 5G where it makes sense and where we have spectrum,” said Riordan.
The company’s service area includes largely rural areas of Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula. Because Cellcom’s service area is so rural, it may not make sense to launch 5G everywhere, Riordan noted.
Current Cellcom 5G speeds vary from county to county but the average is about 10% to 15% higher than its LTE speeds, according to Brooks.
“We’re seeing higher speeds if [5G] is not heavily utilized,” Brooks explained.
In the future, the company could get faster speeds and more capacity in areas where it has additional spectrum, particularly markets where the company has millimeter wave spectrum.
High-band millimeter wave spectrum supports the highest speeds but over relatively short distances and, as Brooks noted, service in that band doesn’t work well in wooded areas. The company is still testing its high-band spectrum but anticipates using it for parks, farmers markets and other areas where greater numbers of people will be gathered.
The company also is considering offering 5G fixed wireless and would likely target areas where it has millimeter wave spectrum, Riordan noted.
Cellcom has been selling 5G-capable phones since last year. A relatively small percentage of customers have 5G-capable devices today, but that will change over time.
From a network standpoint, the company is in a good position to easily turn up 5G service because over the past four years, as the company has upgraded the capacity of its cellsites, it also has prepared the sites to use 5G, Brooks said.
He also noted that some of the spectrum that Cellcom is using for 5G previously supported earlier-generation services. But as the company has repurposed that spectrum to support dynamic spectrum sharing, it has reserved a portion of its spectrum holdings to continue to support the earlier-generation services.
Brooks also noted that Cellcom’s 5G deployments are being made on a non-standalone basis, meaning that they rely on earlier-generation technology for certain capabilities.
The company already has announced plans to launch 5G at additional sites in Brown, Door, Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Shawano counties in “coming months.”
Roaming agreements for 5G, both inbound and outbound, are also in the works and are expected to be in place later this year.