How the iPhone 12 will impact mmWave adoption

Consumers and carriers will both benefit from the inclusion of mmWave support in the iPhone 12

From the perspective of NI’s Head of Semiconductor Marketing David Hall, the release of the iPhone 12, which supports both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G, will significantly accelerate network deployments of mmWave infrastructure.

“What we saw from Apple is clear commitment to deploy mmWave devices in the U.S.,” he said, adding that this decision will provide higher upload and download speeds for consumers while also giving carriers the ability to expand network capacity in the future.

RCR Wireless News spoke further with Hall to dive deeper into how the iPhone 12 will impact the deployment and adoption of mmWave in the U.S., specifically, as well as why Apple joined the 5G game when it did.

Why is the iPhone 12 so important for mmWave?

Hall: The iPhone 12 is critical for mmWave because of the motivation it provides for carriers like Verizon and AT&T to begin deploying more widespread 5G mmWave infrastructure. Think about the user experience with today’s advanced 4G and sub-6 GHz 5G networks. Many users in well-served urban environments can routinely see 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps download speeds on their mobile phones today. That’s akin to broadband internet speeds one is accustomed to seeing from wired internet service provider on their mobile phones. These throughput levels are sufficient to handle 99% of applications on mobile devices.  In fact, if you look at the scenarios where users need more than 100 Mb/s, most of the scenarios are in-home applications like broadband internet for in-home use.

Thus, the reason why Apple’s decisions to provide a mmWave radio in all US-model phones is so critical is because it provides the carriers a massive incentive to begin deploying mmWave infrastructure. The sheer fact that the iPhone 12 now has mmWave means that over the next 12-18 months, the order of 50 million or more mmWave-enabled phones will begin to flood the U.S. market. With the prospect of such massive increase in mmWave-enabled phones present in the U.S. marketplace, carriers will now have the ability to expand overall network capacity by deploying mmWave infrastructure.

Here, the benefit of 5G mmWave is the ability to support more high-throughput users simultaneously. Even if a user doesn’t actually need 500 Mbps of data, the ability to provide that level of throughput means that the user can be serviced more quickly or it means that the carrier can supply a larger number of simultaneous high-throughput users.

Is its support of mmWave unusual? There are plenty of 5G smartphones on the market, but do most of them not support mmWave bands?

Hall: Not really — and it’s somewhat in keeping with Apple’s historical timing. If you look at the history of when iPhones added 4G or 5G capability, they’ve typically lagged other competitors by 6-12 months, opting to prioritize other features instead. One thing that is unique about this announcement is that Apple is currently the only vendor that requires users buying the latest phone model to buy a mmWave radio, and this is — at least for now — different than Samsung’s approach. For example, the Samsung S20 offers mmWave Radio capabilities, but only on their higher end models.

What are your opinions on Apple’s timeline regarding a 5G phone? Why now?

Hall: Apple has pretty consistently released new phones ahead of each holiday season — and this one is no exception. My best guess for why the iPhone 11 didn’t have 5G is because they didn’t have to. It’s still possible to deliver 100 Mbps on LTE Advanced Pro networks (which carriers have actually marketed as 5G even though it’s not) and that’s good enough for most mainstream users.

It’s probably worth noting that in addition to the mmWave 5G bands supported by the iPhone 12, Apple also added support for some of the other sub-6 GHz bands like 600 MHz (n71) and 3.7 GHz (n77). These align well with future plans from the carriers to deploy infrastructure in those bands and will make the iPhone 12 more future proof.

Early iPhone 12 adopters will gain the benefit of having early (and somewhat exclusive access) to some of the 600 MHz and 3.7 GHz spectrum. It’s kind of like having exclusive access to a new tollway while all other users are stuck sharing the original interstate.  Sure, you can both experience the joys of driving 75 MPH on both roads most of the time, but the lack of traffic on the new toll road will all but guarantee peak performance all of the time.

Is 5G really living up to consumer promises yet?

Hall: This is obviously a loaded question, but I honestly believe the answer is “not yet.”  I should caveat with the notion that 5G isn’t truly necessary for all consumers either. Many consumers —and even digitally savvy ones — are well served even by 4.5 networks today. Those of us in urban and suburban environments can routinely see 50 Mbps+ on a mobile device, and this is sufficient for the bulk of applications.

Actually realizing 200 Mbps or higher download speeds requires significant deployment of 5G infrastructure in addition to the new phones. Obviously, the deployment of that infrastructure is just starting now, with increased urgency. In my opinion, the real game-changing 5G applications are some of the non-consumer ones like 5G V2X or massive deployment of low-cost 5G radios. In the short term, the “enhanced mobile broadband” or eMBB use cases of 5G were prioritize first, and mainly because there was clearer line of sight to monetize these technologies.

What will 2021 hold for 5G? 2020 gave us the pandemic, which caused some delays, but it also gave us the iPhone 12, which, as you say, will acerbate network deployments. So, where does this leave us?

Hall: 2021 will quite easily be the year of 5G infrastructure deployments. As consumers are gobbling up new mmWave-enabled phones, carriers have a clear business case to deploy the corresponding infrastructure. With the infrastructure in place, we actually open our industry to the potential for new applications that we don’t even know about today. Even if we can’t dream up the “killer application” that requires 500 Mbps of data today, the existence of infrastructure and the ability to achieve these types of data rates will ultimately drive the innovations that require this type of throughput.

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