Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 299

This is the transcript for episode 299 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Eric Lampland of Lookout Point Communications discusses 5G and the latest technology. Listen to this episode here.


Christopher Mitchell: And that's where we are with 5G. It's a very promising technology at a number of different levels.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 299 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. As the conversation about 5G continues to grow, it's important to consider the reality of the technology and not get caught up in the marketing. We asked Eric Lampland, founder and principal of the consulting firm Lookout Point Communications to join us this week. Eric has visited us several other times to talk about technical issues and matters. Community should consider when exploring ways to improve connectivity. Christopher and Eric were presenting at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Telecommunications Conference, and took a few minutes to talk about the technology behind 5G and how it differs from current wireless networks. Christopher and Eric also take time to address some of the hype around claims that 5G will solve the problems of rural connectivity. Eric also answers some of Chris' questions about new passive optical networking developments. This is one of our podcast that focuses on technology rather than policy or specific community. So geeks in the audience will really appreciate the conversation. Check out our other podcast with Eric episodes 80 on indirect cost savings, 128 on open access challenges, and 246 on feasibility studies. Now here's Christopher with Eric Lampland.

Christopher Mitchell: What'd you have for breakfast? Erik?

Eric Lampland: I didn't have breakfast.

Christopher Mitchell: Really? No breakfast?

Eric Lampland: No breakfast.

Christopher Mitchell: I had donuts. I don't know which one of us did better.

Eric Lampland: You brought one to my room.

Christopher Mitchell: Your room, the room in which I invited you to present with me.

Eric Lampland: And exactly and you didn't bring me a donut so I couldn't have had any breakfast.

Christopher Mitchell: That's, that's true. I did not.

Eric Lampland: I mean, there, there it is.

Christopher Mitchell: This is Chris Mitchell with a -- This is a -- this is going to be a-- an open that we keep I think because this is pretty important stuff -- How Eric and I did not have breakfast and that it was my fault that Eric did not have breakfast -- as we are here at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Conference -- the telecommunications conference. Once again, welcome back, Eric.

Eric Lampland: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Eric Lampland is the founder and principal of lookout point communications. A veteran of our show. And this is the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self-Reliance, just trying something a little different here or an episode 299 as we head toward 300. And maybe we should have a different intro for once. We'll be interested to see that we're going to be talking today about two things that Eric knows quite a bit about. In fact, we presented this morning on it and that is, what is the future of 5G? This all this 5G wireless stuff that we're talking about and the is what's the next generation of the, uh, of PON, the passive optical networking, that most of the municipal networks that have built fiber networks are using. So excited to talk about that.

Eric Lampland: Both good areas.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Um, but we're going to start I think with, uh, with just a brief introduction, which is the same thing I said this morning and I think I've said it a number of times and that's that when I started working with communities and building networks and studying what was happening, um, some people suggested to me that I was wasting my time on this fiber thing because Wi-Fi was clearly going to stomp all over it. We wouldn't need a wireline anymore. Wireless was the future. And then Wi-Fi had some very significant limitations and WiMAX was coming along and people said, you fool, stop thinking about fiber optics and these old fashioned wires. WiMAX is going to do everything is going to be amazing. Just you wait, when that didn't happen, those same people said to me 4G LTE, very exciting long term evolution. You can't beat that. Don't need any more wires for sure. Now, now we're talking about 5G. So Eric, just very briefly, am I going to need to worry about wires in the future?

Eric Lampland: Absolutely.

Christopher Mitchell: All right. That's what I thought. No, this has been so much. Talk around 5G and there's so much hype around it. I want to be able to talk a little bit about what's actually happening from a slightly technical point of view in a way that everyone will be able to understand, but to get there, I think it helps to just quickly encapsulate what happened with 4g. So what happened with 4g in when I say 4G I want to lump everything together between the marketing and the technology. Just spell it out for us please.

Eric Lampland: To really understand 3G, 4G, or 5G. We need to first look at the industry groups that come together and create these standards and the one that has done this has been 3G PP. It's the 3G Partnership Project in 3G PP obviously started with 3G, but later did 4G and now is doing 5G and when it does that, it does that by issuing various releases which have technical content release one through seven. We're really 3G release eight was almost 4G, but really to get 4G you had to get up to release 12, 13 perhaps guy.

Christopher Mitchell: When you say releases, you mean kind of like when we download software on our computer as like release three, release three point five, or at least for that sort of thing?

Eric Lampland: Exactly. And in each one of those releases that you download to your systems, your software, they have new functions in them and so the releases in 3GPP identify the new things that we do. Right. And how to do them.

Christopher Mitchell: And the G is for generation, right?

Eric Lampland: The G is for generations.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure some people were doubting themselves, I know I was.

Eric Lampland: No, that's good. That's good. The point about what happened to 4G is that as we sort of crept up on these ladder, a release levels of, uh, from the 3G PP group. Marketeers in the various different wireless companies started saying, well, we finally arrived at 4G.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I blame t mobile for getting that all started in that case.

Eric Lampland: Well, I don't know about t mobile, but --

Christopher Mitchell: I'm pretty sure it was them.

Eric Lampland: It seemed like all of the carriers piled on pretty quickly.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes, definitely.

Eric Lampland: -- but the promises that were made about 4G really were made about later releases 12, 13, and so on. And the actual implementation that was in the field was more like version 8, 9, 10.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? So what you're, what I remember happening was people would say, oh, you're going to have all this incredible stuff and they're talking about like release 13 or 14 when in reality what's out there is release 8, 9, or so.

Eric Lampland: Well said. That's exactly right. Uh, and, and we have the same phenomenon happening with 5G now, and their releases 15 and 16 and 15 is getting close to being resolved. In 16, we're just beginning to understand what work elements should have to be in 16, but until we get to 16, we don't have the full impact of what people think of as 5G.

Christopher Mitchell: And what's more properly is that a lot of the things that we're actually being sold. If you pick up a newspaper or you read a popular news story about 5G, they're probably thinking about multiple releases down the row.

Eric Lampland: Well, in fact, what we have today in the marketplace is we have a combination of experimentation that's going on in the carriers so they can learn what, what are the issues involved in millimeter waves and all of the techie stuff. Uh, and we have proprietary structures that are put out by individual companies that want to sell high capacity wireless. Unfortunately they're all calling that 5G and in reality, none of it is OK.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? And so there's, there's two separate things that have started to fall under the 5G umbrella. One is, as you were mentioning, these high capacity, fixed wireless services, those are often gear that's so expensive. It doesn't really work for single family homes on a business plan, but may work for a large apartment buildings. The sort of things that I'm Netblazer is doing well, Monkey Brains and Webpass was doing before Google bought them and for some reason seems to be running away with um, but, but that's sort of one thing. And I think most of what I think what you're thinking about, what's going through the 3G PP standard, if I understand correctly, is more what the, what will you be getting from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and those guys?

Eric Lampland: Well that's true, but what's important about the fact that it's going through large scale carriers and large scale carriers worldwide as 3G presents its technology to what we call the international telecommunications union part of the UN, is that those standards go worldwide. And the importance of that is that what you have working in the United States should also work in France, should also work in Singapore. Uh, more importantly, you have to have not only what the carriers are doing, but you also have to have the devices that we're carrying around recognize those same frequencies, those same standards, uh, or otherwise, you know, you're Samsung or your apple or your Motorola phone doesn't work with 5G if it doesn't have many antennas and so forth and so on.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? So that's, that's kind of a in a sense, what we're waiting for right now for 5G.

Eric Lampland: Correct.

Christopher Mitchell: And so just to sum up, we don't have the slides in front of us like the, the group that this morning, I have to say I had a lot of praise from folks who thought we did a really good job this morning. So I'm just to pat ourselves on the back briefly in front of his podcast audience, but the timeline here that we have, um, basically the release a 15 is coming, right? And that's going to be the first release for 5G, but that still has to go through all the standard setting process. And then once they're done setting the standard among the companies, then the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union has to ratify that and say, yeah, we all agree to it.

Eric Lampland: Yes. And they actually, um, we talked about that in three stages or three phases. And the first stage of this are actually the specifications about what we're trying to create guy. So when we say millimeter waves, those are defined when we say how much speed at a given antenna, that's a definition. And so on those definitions go guy, that portion of it deals with the radio access network. But behind the radio access network, you also need an architecture that actually moves data, bits around in, so forth and so on. And that is a different group called the ITU-T, and that technology has, has yet to be defined where the specifications for release 15 at stage one or phase one at the ITU we're just done in December.

Christopher Mitchell: So that's a, that's a sense of how this will not just get sped up because people are excited about it. Like there's no, there's not going to be a 5G, a real 5G in 2018 or 2019 because these processes require time.

Eric Lampland: They do, they time and they require some learning as well. And in fact, some of the deployments that people hear about, uh, such as verizon going into Sacramento or t mobile, talking about using a different frequency nationwide. Um, our experiments on the part of the carriers whose purpose is to learn, you know, we, we haven't deployed an international network using millimeter waves using this kind of capacity to various different, uh, and devices and so forth. So w engineers aren't god-like there. They're just the opposite of that. No, no, they come quite close. We were known by being able to fix just today's failure.

Christopher Mitchell: So I think one of the key questions here is, aside from the fact that let's ignore the innate desire in a market economy for the telecommunications companies to just one advertise something new and exciting. I'm in somewhere. In some sense it seems to me that you could just have released 15 and 16 be called 4G. I mean, it seems somewhat arbitrary. Is there really a difference that we're talking about in 5G beyond just faster service to my cell phone?

Eric Lampland: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, the, the criteria for 5G a and as we now know, it, um, is defined primarily by three individual use cases in those use cases. One of those use cases is the one that you would generally hear a great deal about, which is enhanced mobile broadband. So all of those claims for speed and whatnot, um, are in that group, but we also know that right now we need to address and the wireless people are wanting to address a world called Internet of things or better said machine to machine communications. So there is another set of criteria in 5G, uh, that are referred to is enhanced machine type communications.

Christopher Mitchell: I don't understand why for this machine, massive machine type communications. Why can't we just put a lot more devices on 4g? What do we need to change? I mean, I think a lot of us might just intuitively think, well just put more machines on if we need more antennas or whatever. Fine. Like why does, why does something major needs to change to have more machines talking to each other?

Eric Lampland: There are a couple of different reasons for that. I'm the easy one to understand is there are different revenue sources for the carriers and so there needs to be a way of distinguishing that kind of traffic from some other kinds of traffic.

Christopher Mitchell: Ha building relationships. This is the key. This is, this is what makes networks complicated.

Eric Lampland: Yeah. In the end result, a lot of it is about revenue. Now the second thing about machine communications is that quite a large number of machine type communications do not require very much bandwidth. And so if you allocated a particular set of frequencies and capacities to a machine communications that you, uh, allocated to a mobile phone, you may be wasting a great deal of that, uh, overall capacity of that radio.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure. If I had dumped 100 environmental sensors on a single access point, the access point is thinking, oh, well maybe I need to be thinking about 10 megabits per, per thing per unit that's connected. And in fact, they may only need 300 kilobits.

Eric Lampland: Exactly, exactly the same. It's exactly the right idea. Different machines require different properties. So you may have some machines that need 300, you may have some machines that need 3000, you may have machines that need a best effort service, and you may have machines that need some fairly low latency and certainly high reliability issues. OK,

Christopher Mitchell: and that's that latency issue is in reliability issue is the third piece that just to recap, because I sort of way laid you on the machine to machine, but the three use cases are. The first one was enhanced mobile broadband, faster services to our cell phones. The second is what we were just talking about, the machine to machine communications, and the third one is the most exciting one.

Eric Lampland: Ah, and that's third one is called ultra low latency, reliable communications guy. Uh, and it's, it's not common that we get a five letter acronym, but that's what it is, right? Or I don't know how you'd pronounce it, but in that particular area we're talking about communication responses that have a latency of under, of, at or under one, one millisecond. Uh, and that's extraordinarily fast in comparison. Today's to today's standards,

Christopher Mitchell: right? One of the things that gamers on wired networks really care about is they're paying their latency and if they're done at like 15, 20 milliseconds, they're really happy. You're talking about really faster than that,

Eric Lampland: Really faster than that. Even in a 5G enhanced mobile broadband, a, we're shooting for a latency target of four milliseconds, but for some applications in particularly applications dealing with cars guy, we're down into these very low latency areas because as you drive along any, any highway now and various different cell towers along the way, you get handed off from one tower to the next tower. Well, depending on how fast you drive and whether or not it's a Tesla or whatever the case may be, you really want that response to be fairly quick and you don't want to have to deal with all the timing issues dealing with hand-offs. But there are lots of other reasons to have low written low latency. That's just one example of

Christopher Mitchell: Right. But I think that gives a sense of how people think of 5G. I think it's intuitive to think, oh, it's just about faster speeds, but it's not. It's really about moving us into a new world and yet we will still need wires in this world.

Eric Lampland: Well, in fact, the, the specifications that were done in December, uh, require that a given wireless access point guy has a capacity of 20 gigabits per second that supports that particular access point and the only thing that does that today is fiber. So we've got fiber to those wireless antennas.

Christopher Mitchell: So the last thing I want to talk about with 5G is a thing called spectral efficiency. And this, this I think deals with within a very important issue, which is that it sort of gets back to this issue of 5Gs going to solve everything in these claims that are made by lobbyists to state legislators to the FCC. These lobbyists for the wireless companies want us to believe that 5g will solve every problem that we have, that it is going to be amazing in rural areas. It's gonna, it's gonna break through any, any RF challenges that we have today. Um, so w, what is spectral efficiency and how does it fit into all of this?

Eric Lampland: No, spectral efficiency really refers to the carrying capacity of a given network. So we refer to the frequencies on spectrum as some multiple of Hertz, Hertz being a cycle, um, uh, in the greater number of cycles you have, the higher the frequency is. So currently when you think in terms of Wi-Fi, um, that most people are familiar with, you have 2.4 billion hertz or 2.4 Gigahertz frequency is the slow one and 5 Gigahertz frequency is the fast one with 5G we're in millimeter ranges. So you're the two favored a ones are 29 Gigahertz, 29 billion hertz or above a, something in the range of 20 to a hundred gigahertz. The question is within that particular frequency range. If I carve out a hundred megahertz or a half a billion megahertz and I'm on a frequency of, of 29 Gigahertz, let's say 29 to 29 point 5Guy, then I have that kind of range. And if my spectral efficiency on a given Hertz guy is 30 bits per hertz, which is the target overall, OK, then I'd have that, that 500 times 30 and I'd have that many bits per second across the wire. So spectral efficiency times the bandwidth allocation is equal to the bits delivered.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? And so, I mean, it's easier when you're looking at the equation, but I think one of the, one of the keys is that it's somewhat intuitive is that if you're spectral efficiency is really good, you're at 30 bits per hertz and if it's not, then your lower, let's say 10 bits per hertz and that means that you're roughly one third the capacity or worse.

Eric Lampland: That's correct. OK. And so the targets that people talk about for some of those environments would include in house, in home a hot spots. And the target for that is nine Spec, the spectral efficiency of nine. So a third of the 30, if you will. OK,

Christopher Mitchell: I'm a bit surprised to hear that it's just nine because I mean it is the 30 just perfect laboratory conditions in and we, in real world, we don't, we don't get to that

Eric Lampland: or you can think of it that way. Um, there are other things that happen within a house that is going to knock down your efficiency of getting it through. The most common thing that knocks down spectral efficiency is distance. The more distance you have, the less bits per second you're going to deliver at that far end point.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm glad that won't be a problem in rural areas.

Eric Lampland: So in rural areas, the spectral efficiency that is targeted is three point three bits per hertz.

Christopher Mitchell: All right, so have you thought, have you thought by household was bad at 30 percent of the, of the 30 boy, now you're looking at 10 percent.

Eric Lampland: Yes. If, if a calculation at 30 bits per hertz and delivered to you, a gigabit guy, then the same signal in a rural environment should get you maybe something like a hundred meg, but in truth there is very little that is expected to be in the gigabit range on 5G. In fact the target for end users is a hundred megabits, so it's more like if it was a hundred megabits on the 30 bits per hertz and it would be something in the area about 10 megabits by the time you delivered in a rural environment.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and, and one of the things that I would guess, and I don't, I wonder if the 3.3 figure for spectral efficiency takes into account is that, you know, it's, it's one thing to have to go through trees and other obstacles. It's another thing to have to go to distance, but if you're going a long distance and hitting obstacles, boy you're in a world of hurt. Is that, that's, that's why it's three point three or is that something that we would expect it for some people to be much worse?

Eric Lampland: No, I think that those are good to think about. You know, how that signal travels in through what it travels affects its efficiency.

Christopher Mitchell: What I'm hearing is that 5G might not be the savior that some self interested people when it claim that it is. Yeah. Although it is, it is worth noting that it is, as we've discussed here, important, it is necessary and we're excited about it, but we just don't want to be unrealistically, you. I'm just hyping a bubble.

Eric Lampland: Well in, in that's where we are with 5G. it's a very promising technology at a number of different levels. We will need it. If you're a urban transportation vehicle is an electric self driving car that uses vehicle to everything, a communications which is 5G and you drive it from a major metropolitan area down into a far rural area. It's going to be a question of whether or not that car is actually working properly.

Christopher Mitchell: I have to say I have my doubts about some of this stuff with electric cars. I think the low latency or it's going to be all kinds of things that are important. I think that when we look at security and other things, I actually think that the vehicle, the vehicle, low latency stuff will turn out to be less important. I think of it in some ways as in the in the eighties when computer programmers and computer aficionados wanted to explain to people why computers are so exciting, they would say, well, in the future you can store your recipes on them. That was one of the things and and, and there's all kinds of ways for people who are not watching. I may have just killed Eric. My recipes are, so there's all these things that we can do. I think that when we have ultra low frequency networks, we will find all kinds of ways to use them. I'm just not convinced it's going to be the cars in part because I don't want a car that falls apart if the radio system stops,

Christopher Mitchell: I'm working.

Christopher Mitchell: So anyway, that's an example Eric's been using. I've been biting my tongue and now I just, I couldn't do it anymore. Eric, while I have you here, I'm sequestered in Des Moines. Um, I, I wonder actually one other thing which is um, you know, we talked about 5G and how it's uh, it's very exciting and what the realistic course of it is, but there's also something else and you've done a lot of presentations on this and that's the next generation of passive optical networking or PON, which is, you know, it's how Chattanooga's network works. That's how the majority of fiber to the home in the country works. And this is not taking sides among those active ethernet partisans. But I just wanted to get a sense of what's next for the PONs that we should care about.

Eric Lampland: Well, there are really two protocols coming forward. One is referred to as XGS PON. In XGS PON it's 10 gigabits down to some end device, a splitter typically and 10 gigabits back. So that compares to GPON, which is two and a half gig down in one point, and two gig back. Yeah,

Christopher Mitchell: right. And so I, as you said, that was to the splitter. So there's some sort of magic wizardry. We don't have to go into, I shouldn't say magic wizardry around an engineer, but there's some kind of technology that um, that is for, for instance, uh, if you're getting a gigabit network service from a passive optical network, really you're sharing 2.4 gigs with your neighbors, but it's arranged in such a way that you can get a gigabit peak if you need it. And so now we're going to be seeing with this, with this particular standard, this one XGS PON

Eric Lampland: So XGS PON is 10 gigabits in both directions. It's symmetrical. And the, the other standard is called Next Generation PON 2, NGPON2. It is made up of wavelengths each being 10 gigabits in both directions. So because it's made up by wavelengths in the implementations we're seeing use for wavelengths, but the standard needs a allows up to eight guy. If those four wavelengths all go to a singular endpoint, that particular endpoint would be receiving 40 gigabits. Wow. So knock your socks off, knock your socks off. And so if you're a company on upon network, that's really not an unrealistic speed in some cases, but there are all sorts of things that you can do with NGPON2 such as a, if you're receiving a given wavelength, cool, we'll call it red guy in red fails, maybe you just turn up blue and you have that service back. Uh, so you can tune those up from, uh, the same OLT or separate OLTs and so forth. And so on. A. So there's flexibility there. The difference is that XGS PON is implemented today primarily because it's a stable 10 Gig, a laser involved guy with a n, d pond to you have to have tune-able lasers, so you turn to that red wave or the blue labour, the green wave or whatever. And those are a bit more expensive these days.

Christopher Mitchell: Is that, is that a way of. I think in some ways the holy grail for you and I, as we think about the world, would want to live in. We would have one physical connection to our home. Um, maybe, maybe a choice in that, but the point would be that we would have multiple services available over at least one connection to our home right now. It seems like the way networks are designed, if you did that, your services could compete with each other and kind of fight with each other. With this technology. Seems like you might be able to have a single ISP that allows multiple services to, that aren't even aware of each other.

Eric Lampland: You could try that with NGPON2, um, the bigger motivations for NGPON2 are really, um, motivations that deal with what is that end device we're trying to get to? Is that a commercial entity? Is that possibly a cellular antenna? For example, we were talking in 5G about requiring a 20 Gig path from the antenna down. Well, that's two NGPON2 wavelengths. One of the goals with NGPON2 is to be able to develop a network that supports all of the services that we're trying to deliver, whether they happen to be wireless services, data center to data center services, home services, commercial services, and the like.

Christopher Mitchell: Also, there's a business case which is in an excessively partisan country. You could tell someone, I'm only delivering your service on the red wave one, and to a more liberal person you can say I'm only gonna. Use The blue wave length. And for those people in the middle you can say, luck. You could use both red and blue and get yourself some purple.

Eric Lampland: I don't think anyone's going to do that, but it's an interesting use case to kick around.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, thank you so much for coming on. I think this might be the most entertaining of the in-depth technical episodes that we've done.

Eric Lampland: Well, thanks Chris. Good talking to you.

Christopher Mitchell: I really appreciate you spending the time to come up and talk about this after we already did it this morning. And then I definitely want to thank Curtis Dean down here for putting together this show, at the IAMU and recommend that folks look at it for next year. It's -- it's an event in Des Moines. It's easy to get to. It's a great hotel year after year. It's good to small conference where you can talk to people that are actually doing stuff. I, I really liked this event so, so thanks for that.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher with Eric Lampland from Lookout Point Communications for more check out We have transcripts from this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @CommunityNets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts --Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules. podcasts you can access them on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter at We want to thank Arnie Huseby for the song "Warm Duck Shuffle" licensed through Creative Commons, and we also want to thank you for listening to episode 299 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.