U.S. wireless carriers have been up to their eyeballs in millimeter wave tests for 5G, and now it seems they have another notable fellow: Apple.
The California-based handset company this week asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to move forward with tests in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands to gather performance information for future 5G devices.
“Apple Inc. seeks to assess cellular link performance in direct path and multipath environments between base station transmitters and receivers using this spectrum,” Apple wrote in its application. “These assessments will provide engineering data relevant to the operation of devices on wireless carriers’ future 5G networks.”
Apple said it plans to transmit from two fixed points at its facilities in Cupertino and Milpitas, Calif., as it conducts experiments over the next 12 months. The company indicated it will use a vector signal generator from Rohde & Schwarz, a double ridge guide horn antenna from A.H. Systems, and power amplifiers and a low noise amplifier from Analog Devices. The antenna will utilize a “half-power beamwidth of 20 degrees in the E-plane and H-plane and a downtilt between 20-25 degrees,” Apple indicated.
The move comes as stateside wireless operators gear up for 5G launches in the coming years. While the FCC opened up nearly 11 GHz of licensed and unlicensed spectrum above 24 GHz last summer for 5G use, operators have focused many of their tests in two main bands. And Apple has chosen its test bands accordingly.
Verizon has notably honed in on 28 GHz as its band of choice after gaining access to that spectrum via its XO Communications deal. But the carrier will also gain a trove of 39 GHz licenses – about 95 percent of those currently commercially available – through its deal to acquire Straight Path.
AT&T is also using 28 GHz for its own 5G trials, but has also dabbled with 39 GHz in DirecTV streaming tests with Nokia. In March, AT&T said it plans to launch standards-based mobile 5G as soon as the end of 2018.
T-Mobile is another that has said it will use 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum – along with low-and mid-band airwaves – in its nationwide 5G deployments, which the Un-carrier has indicated will come in 2020.
Unlike its peers, Sprint has chosen to focus on using 2.5 GHz spectrum for its 5G plans. However, its parent company, SoftBank, recently conducted 28 GHz trials in Tokyo with Ericsson. That’s significant because technology pioneered by SoftBank has a history of finding its way into Sprint deployments.
For Apple, the tests appear to be the company’s first foray into 5G for handsets. Major handset rival Samsung has been heavily involved in a number of millimeter wave tests with operators, but appears to have participated mainly from a network equipment angle. That said, it’s probable Samsung is taking its findings from those tests back to its handset division for consideration. The company in February unveiled a new 5G lineup of products that created a direct pipe from the network core to an in-home router. It doesn’t seem far-fetched that a handset would be far behind, especially since the chipmakers are already ready.