5g tower

During today’s earnings conference call, new UScellular CEO Laurent Therivel updated investors and analysts on the regional wireless carrier’s 5G plans, which include figuring out rural 5G fixed wireless. In so doing Thrievel also discussed elusive 5G use cases beyond high speed internet.

As for UScellular 5G fixed wireless, the carrier points to a recent trial with Qualcomm and Ericsson as promising. That trial, using 5G millimeter wave spectrum, achieved 100 Mbps performance at a range of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

Therivel pointed to that trial as encouraging for UScellular rural 5G fixed wireless opportunities. But he wants to do more market trials before committing to widescale deployments. Specifically, Therivel cited a need to test “elasticity of demand.”

Laurent Therivel
Laurent Therivel

By that, Therivel says UScellular needs to determine the excess capacity needed to deliver fixed wireless home internet across its 5G network. Excess capacity in the sense of how much capacity is needed for wireless home internet over and above delivering a quality mobile 5G experience.

Market trials in 1Q 2021 will do exactly that, Therivel noted. That is, test the elasticity of demand principal on 5G networks. Once that is figured out, Therivel says UScellular will be better positioned to build the right capacity for both mobile and fixed wireless into future 5G network builds, and thus add more UScellular rural 5G fixed wireless markets.

“Assuming that we get good customer uptake, you can expect to see us continue to roll that out into more geographies and be fairly aggressive behind it,” said Therivel on today’s earnings call. “We have to test that elasticity with customers.”

Therivel notes that UScellular already has this figured out with 4G LTE in the context of fixed wireless, which the company is already doing. Next on the menu for fixed wireless is 5G.

Beyond high speed internet, Therivel noted that 5G use cases are elusive for now. He suggested that he hasn’t yet seen a specific 5G use case that can’t be served with existing 4G LTE infrastructure. But it’s not as if he and UScellular aren’t looking.

“Our company in particular, we spend a fair amount of time looking at connected agriculture, we’re working with drone companies to understand what the needs and the use cases are going to be there,” said Therivel. “I certainly think that Covid has highlighted the need for more robust connected health and connected education solutions.”

While no “silver bullet” 5G use cases may exist right now, Therivel notes they will eventually come.

“Haven’t seen the silver bullet, you know for the 5G use case beyond high speed internet,” he said. “I have all the confidence in the world it will emerge.”

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