The nation’s wireless and broadband infrastructure needs to be modernized. Almost certainly, the 4G LTE infrastructure we had for supporting a heavily mobile workforce and society was approaching its limits in its ability to handle increased capacity and the demands of modern mobile applications.
However, whatever grand plans we thought America’s telecom giants had for rolling out national 5G infrastructure is almost certainly now on indefinite hold given the substantial economic slowdown that is going to occur.
It is also unlikely emergency funds from our government will be used to pay for network expansion when other needs are pressing, with potentially up to 30% of the US population facing unemployment.
With so many people in self-isolation for what could be as long as 18 months under some estimates, and with a possible long-term shift towards home-based work for a large segment of the population, large-scale deployment of public 5G access points is likely to be curtailed. This hold on further investment will especially apply for the millimeter-wave (mmWave) component of most telecom upgrade plans.
That being said, I anticipate that Sub-6 deployments installed as in-place upgrades on 4G LTE towers will proceed, as Sub-6 will still be easier to maintain in the long term. However, as things stand now, 5G mmWave access point deployments in urban environments are most likely going to be tactical, not strategic, to deploy fixed broadband access to those who need it the most.
Bandwidth is a precious resource to be conserved and not squandered
With a large segment of the population confined to their homes having to consume bandwidth, the internet free-for-all we have enjoyed to date is all but done. Emergency legislation or an executive order needs to be enacted to limit video content streaming to 720p across all content services, such as from Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, Disney+, YouTube, and other providers.
Traffic prioritization and shaping need to be put in place for core business applications during prime hours, which includes video conferencing for business and personal use. This would effectively be the opposite of net neutrality, as an emergency measure.
Internet video streaming traffic should be prioritized for essential news providers, and the government should provide incentives for them to broadcast their content (and for home-bound citizens to consume it) over-the-air (OTA) so that additional bandwidth can be freed up. Remember the antenna and devices with built-in tuners? It may be an appropriate time to shift some programming back to the airwaves, and even bring back the DVR, so that programming can be transferred to devices during off-hours when networks aren’t saturated.
4G LTE infrastructure should not be employed for personal use in situations where Cable/DSL and Wi-Fi VoIP broadband is available. It should instead be prioritized for emergency and law enforcement services regardless of the access to the AWS-3 spectrum that has now been freed up for temporary use to US cellular providers.
While edge caching and content delivery networks (CDNs) can be used to mitigate some of these issues, the telecoms almost certainly never capacity tested for a scenario where such a large amount of people are confined to their homes for such long periods. Therefore, distributed content caching and peered content using local storage located on devices in residences within neighborhoods using “mesh” network scenarios and the use of protocols such as BitTorrent may need to be employed on platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, et cetera.
As with an expected slowdown on 5G deployments, fiber and other infrastructure improvements are also likely to be put on hold in certain parts of the country. So if you don’t have access to gigabit fiber now, you probably won’t be getting it for a while.