March 26, 2021
For some time, Dish Network has been promising a beta launch of its much-anticipated 5G network in Las Vegas, amid delays. That beta test phase with friendly users has begun, however, and according to executive comments on the company’s third-quarter call, commercial service is expected to start some time in the first quarter of 2022.
But testing consultancy Signals Research Group took an early on-the-ground look at Dish’s early implementation, as well as a comparison of 5G network operations by the three national operators in Las Vegas.
Here are some key takeaways from SRG’s testing summary:
-SRG spent 24 hours in Vegas conducting the testing, picking its own drive-testing routes that it noted were “by no means exhaustive” and using a Rohde & Schwarz TSMA6 scanner to log RF signals for all 5G New Radio bands between 600 MHz-3.7 GHz (which allowed it to observe and record network signals for which it did not have devices). SRG looked at signal strength (RSRP) and signal quality (SINR), as well as some of the cell-sector-level PCI numbers. The testing focused exclusively on 5G NR network data, as opposed to integrating LTE information.
-On the upside, coverage mapping looked good. “Looking at all four low-band 5G coverage maps, it is evident that coverage-related problems (i.e., having a strong signal) shouldn’t exist in any of the networks, although on a relative basis there are differences that are evident,” SRG said.
-But good coverage doesn’t necessarily equal good network quality, due to a number of network characteristics. SRG reported, for instance, that T-Mobile US “is ahead of the coverage game,” based largely on its 600 MHz 5G coverage. But T-Mobile US’ 2.5 GHz (Band 41) had the best quality coverage, by SRG’s reckoning. The ability of low-band 5G spectrum to propagate for long distances is a bit of a double-edged sword here; SRG reports that low-band 5G often had high interference across cells, reducing the signal quality.
-In looking at both T-Mo and Dish’s network operations in low-band spectrum around 600 MHz, SRG said that it was evident that T-Mobile US’ network quality was better than that of Dish’s pre-commercial network. Channel bandwidth (Dish is using 10 megahertz of low-band spectrum, T-Mobile US is using 15 megahertz) and other factors such as backhaul capacity may be coming into play.
-Although not included in the overall analysis, SRG did say that it observed a few 5G NR sites using CBRS spectrum as well.
SRG’s report can be accessed here.