SingTel, StarHub gear up for 5G SA launch in Singapore

Prominent Singaporean telcos SingTel and StarHub are gearing up for commercial launch of 5G standalone networks in Singapore. All telcos in Singapore are currently operating non-standalone version of 5G network. The consumers will be able to access its services only after updating their compatible handset with software patches.

A select number of Singtel users will be offered test units of Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for the network trial. The handsets would contain beta release of Samsung’s 5G standalone software. The users will also get a setup kit along with a 5G SA SIM card. As per Singtel, the 5G SA network will provide 30% faster upload speed when compared to 4G. Also, 5G SA networks have been deployed across hundreds of locations across the city. These include sites such as Marina Bay, VivoCity, Chinatown, Punggol, Sentosa and Financial Center.

Singapore Marina Bay

Singapore had last year issued two licenses to Singtel and jointly to StarHub and M1. The telcos were offered two chunks of 800 MHz spectrum and the same was used to offer 5G services on existing 4G networks. All telcos expect to have nationwide 5G SA services up and running by 2025.

Can mmWave 5G replace Wi-Fi? OpenSignal’s report says so.

For years, Wi-Fi has been the go-to choice of internet users that demand faster, reliable and uninterruptible service with consistent bandwidth. Although cellular is a popular alternative to Wi-Fi with LTE+ services getting cheaper, it still cannot be counted as a Wi-Fi replacement due to issues like bandwidth inconsistency and higher latency. However, as per the latest report from OpenSignal, with arrival of 5G mmWave, this is no longer the case. This post uses data from OpenSignal’s analysis.

Users connected to public Wi-Fi, can experience average download speeds of 21 Mbps. Public Wi-Fi already has limited availability. 5G experience may differ depending on the frequency being used to offer the service. For example, the users connected to widely available sub-6 5G may experience average download speeds of 64 Mbps. The same users, when connected to 5G mmWave with compatible hardware can experience whooping average download speeds of 640 Mbps, 10 times as high as sub-6 5G and almost 30 times as high as public Wi-Fi.

Data from OpenSignal for average download speeds of wireless interfaces

Public Wi-Fi, in its nature has its own limitations, which can explain the slower speeds experienced by users. As Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum and unmanaged frequencies, its signal often suffers due to interference by competing signals. There are often multiple Wi-Fi networks in one place competing for non-abundant frequencies. Thus, public Wi-Fi is subject to interference, effectively slowing the network speed. On the other hand, 5G uses wireless spectrum that is licensed to only one carrier. Hence, there is no chance of interference. Standards like 5 GHz Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6 have been introduced solve this issue. However, their availability is very limited when it comes to public Wi-Fi. Since public Wi-Fi is often a free service, service providers may not have upgraded their access points. Public Wi-Fi is often a gateway to a wired broadband connection that might be using older technology (for example, ADSL) and is often not upgraded. Due to this, the network often has limited capacity and speeds suffer in case multiple users are connected. On the other hand, a 5G carrier uses a backhaul connection to a base station that is usually upgraded by the operator to ensure the best user experience.

Sub-6 and mmWave comparison (Image source: Qualcomm)

Though 5G mmWave offers promising high speeds and lowest possible latency, its current availability of is very limited. mmWaves aka Millimeter waves are extremely high frequencies and are subject to atmospheric attenuation, which significantly affects the coverage of a single 5G mmWave base station. The operator can overcome this limitation by installing multiple 5G mmWave base stations in public places to ensure seamless coverage. The number of 5G mmWave base stations to be installed is way more than that of sub-6 5G and 4G LTE base sations. These 5G mmWave base stations form small cells. The operator may deploy many of these at malls, cafes, restaurants, parks and so on. This makes makes a small cell of 5G mmWave very similar to a public Wi-Fi network and an mmWave base station similar to a Wi-Fi access point. Thus, unlike traditional cellular networks, 5G mmWave can be a perfect replacement to public Wi-Fi, whenever available.

However, Wi-Fi will still continue to play its role at home and work locations as it is free, cheap and often without any data cap. As almost all of existing devices support Wi-Fi or old cellular technologies and lack necessary 5G hardware, Wi-Fi and 5G mmWave will continue to complement each other for first few years. Slowly but steadily, users will get onboard 5G and use it as a preferred choice over the Wi-Fi. The operators can use this opportunity to offer significantly better connectivity to users in dense urban localities where Wi-Fi speeds suffer due to interference.

Jio may use Samsung’s next-gen radio for mid-band spectrum

Jio Platforms, India’s largest telecom operator has plans to use Samsung’s latest 5G radio solution for mid-band 5G spectrum. Samsung has developed 5G wideband radios to support the mid-band spectrum efficiently. The next-gen radios are capable of supporting extended bandwidth, including massive MIMO radios.

These new radios will help Jio to deploy mid-band 5G in a more cost-effective way. These can also support 400 MHz bandwidth, nearly double compared to its current-generation radios. With double bandwidth support, Jio can efficiently manage 5G network in the mid-band spectrum using lesser hardware. Mid-band frequencies help deliver the better service coverage with higher data speeds and lower latency.

Samsung’s wideband radio solutions will be commercially available in 2022 as the company has announced. Jio is already using the 4G equipment supplied by Samsung in its pan-India LTE network. Jio already has plans to develop homegrown 5G. The partnership with Samsung for 5G radios will help the telco for a faster rollout.