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Qualcomm/Facebook gigabit Wi-Fi field trials to start in 2019

News Analysis
Jul 05, 20183 mins
InternetMobileSmall and Medium Business

Qualcomm partners with Facebook to build a 60GHz urban Wi-Fi network, which the companies say will be faster to deploy than any fiber or copper solution.

network communication connections depicted in an aerial view of a city at night
Credit: JaCZhou / Getty Images

How should a company develop when its growth is dependent on availability of internet? Build out the internet is probably the answer. And that’s just what Facebook intends to do.

The social network has just nabbed Qualcomm to help build its 2016-announced 60GHz urban Wi-Fi network, says Qualcomm. The chip maker recently announced that that the companies intend to start trials of the high-speed broadband solution sometime around mid-2019.

“This terrestrial connectivity system aims to improve the speed, efficiency, and quality of internet connectivity around the world at only a fraction of the cost of fiber,” Qualcomm says in its release.

The QCA6438 and QCA6428 family of chipsets will be used on the pre-802.11ay Wi-Fi standard using unlicensed millimeter frequencies. The trials, based on backhaul technology (802.11ay is geared towards backhaul) will operate in millimeter 60GHz spectrum and will be aimed at ultimately providing copious Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband to customers in cities.

Terragraph, as Facebook’s Connectivity Lab calls the technology, will be faster to deploy than any fiber or copper solution as internet needs explode, the 2.2 billion monthly user social network claims. That’s because the wireless tech won’t have to secure rights-of-way access, it says. Plus, it can use existing street items such as lighting or utility poles.

Fiber is still a part of the solution, explains Facebook on its Terragraph website. That’s because the short-distance radio-driven internet is a street-level installation — it’s not intended to replace fiber, merely extend internet broadband from fiber to the end user. Consequently, rooftops, traffic light poles, and sides of buildings can be used for the small base stations that tie into the existing fiber Point of Presence. Streets do not need to be torn up.

It’s cheaper than fiber all the way to the user, “enabling operators to reduce their capex for last mile access,” says Irvind Ghai of Qualcomm Atheros, a subsidiary of Qualcomm Technologies, in the firm’s release.

Time synchronized nodes, TDMA-based protocol, channel bonding, and massive antenna arrays will be utilized to overcome difficulties using those cutting-edge frequencies that far up the spectrum. Ordinarily, line-of-sight millimeter frequencies at 60GHz would travel short distances and be prone to physical obstruction. Interference will be avoided by steering the signal path around problem areas, Facebook believes.

5G wireless also on the way

5G wireless is also just around the corner: fixed and mobile. 5G is similar to Terragraph in that it will also use millimeter frequencies. Millimeter, high-up-the-spectrum frequencies are heavily bandwidth friendly — there’s lots of space in the spectrum. Verizon, along with Nokia, is trialing 28GHz and 39GHz millimeter (mmWave) spectrum now for potential 5G use, for example.

5G New Radio (NR), the recently formalized standard for 5G is “a commercial reality in 2019 for enhanced mobile broadband,” Qualcomm says on its website. The company is designing equipment for “5G NR mmWave” in spectrum above 24GHz.

It intends to address mobile challenges by anchoring its 5G NR mmWave mobile users with “5G NR sub-6 GHz” frequencies, along with traditional 4G LTE. That will stop sessions getting lost outside as users move out of range of the small cells that will be used, it says.

5G NR sub-6 GHz is part of overall 5G NR even though it’s not using the harder-to-implement millimeter (mmWave) spectrum. That will allow telco marketers and others to describe some non-millimeter frequency technology as 5G, among reasons.


Patrick Nelson was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Patrick Nelson and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.