The fifth generation of wireless networks and the manner in which the industry is envisioning the next major standard of mobile communications may prompt more traditional cable operators to move into the wireless space, many industry watchers are now speculating. 5G is widely expected to change the mobile service ecosystem in the sense that it will shift the focus from large radio towers to small cells, as indicated by the fact that the majority of the industry is presently pursuing its commercialization through the prism of millimeter-wave spectrum. The very nature of high-frequency bands should allow network operators to significantly increase the capacities and lower the latencies of their offerings yet also requires major infrastructural investments as such radio waves aren't suitable for traveling over long distances and are instead prone to being absorbed by rain and foliage, in addition to having weak penetration capabilities.
That state of affairs is presently fueling a small cell push in the United States, with the industry successfully lobbying to have the Federal Communications Commission agree to remove a large portion of red tape surrounding such deployment in the country, a move announced several days back. The network density requirements for mmWave-based 5G remain high and provide an opportunity for cable companies to move into the wireless segment in a relatively straightforward manner by virtue of the fact they're already operating a dense infrastructure, according to some industry watchers. The reliance on small cells and other economics of the next-generation technology will also blur the lines between wireline and wireless services, as already suggested by the advent of fixed wireless access solutions currently pursued by Verizon that are technically 5G but in practice seek to compete with broadband Internet packages.
National carriers are now also expected to continue pursuing fiber-optic infrastructure buildouts meant to indirectly support their wireless ambitions, another segment in which the cable industry already boasts a massive presence. Comcast's XFINITY Mobile service amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers since launching last year and Charter signaled it's looking to introduce a similar offering in the second half of 2018, with more cable companies possibly looking to follow suit. Large-scale 5G deployment efforts in the U.S. are scheduled to start early next year, whereas nationwide coverage is a milestone that the four largest wireless network operators in the country are planning to hit by 2020.