UScellular said yesterday that it has achieved sustained average downlink speeds of approximately one gigabit per second using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum and fixed 5G on a commercial network over a distance of 7 kilometers (more than four miles). The speed was achieved using a 400 MHz swath of spectrum, a UScellular spokesperson told Telecompetitor in an email.
Average uplink speeds were in the range of 55 Mbps and instantaneous peak downlink speeds exceeded 2 Gbps, UScellular said. The news is important because although the wireless industry recognizes that millimeter wave spectrum supports some of the highest possible speeds, some stakeholders are concerned that its range is too limited.
The UScellular test results suggest that mmWave range may not be as limited as had been assumed. Even when there was no clear line of sight between the access point and the end user, UScellular saw sustained downlink speeds of approximately 730 Mbps and sustained average uplink speeds of approximately 38 Mbps over a distance of 1.75 km (just over one mile).
The results were achieved in Janesville, Wisconsin using an antenna system and radio from Ericsson and customer premises equipment (CPE) from Inseego. The Inseego equipment was described as “outdoor” CPE powered by the Qualcomm 5G fixed wireless access platform gen 1 featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon modem and Qualcomm mmWave antenna module.
“We are on track to trial 5G fixed wireless later this year in a few markets with a commercial launch to follow,” the UScellular spokesperson told us.
She declined to answer questions about the speeds that the company would advertise for the service or what the price would be, noting that “we will have more to pass along in the future when we share more about our offering.”
The reference to “outdoor” CPE suggests that the company might need to roll a truck to install service to a customer. The spokesperson declined to answer questions about whether customers would be able to install the service themselves and whether equipment would be installed on customers’ roofs.
If UScellular needs to roll a truck to install service, it would likely add to the cost. But if the company can provide speeds in the range of a gigabit, that’s a cost that customers may be willing to pay.
In 2019, UScellular was one of the bigger winners in Auctions 101 and 102 of mmWave spectrum in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands. The company also was one of the larger winners in Auction 103 of spectrum in the 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands.
UScellular’s news about gigabit fixed wireless comes at a time when the industry is debating whether the technology will be practical for serving rural areas and whether companies that won funding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program to deploy gigabit fixed wireless will be able to meet performance requirements.
While UScellular’s achievement is impressive, it’s worth noting that the uplink speeds that the company experienced would not enable another company using the same technology to meet the RDOF 500 Mbps upstream requirement for the gigabit performance tier.