Looking Ahead to 2021: Our Top 5 Wireless Predictions

This past year (2020) was a busy year for the wireless world, particularly in the area of FCC auctions. The year started with the mmWave auction (a staggering 3,400 MHz of spectrum) completed in January, then the CBRS auction in March, and the RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) auction in December. The C-band auction has yet to finish, and already $70 billion in gross bids have been tabled as of 12/24/21. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has forced many people to work from home and spend more time online, raising public awareness of high-speed connectivity and its vital importance to the economy.


So, what’s in store for 2021? Courtesy of SOLiD’s crystal ball, here are our predictions for what to expect in 2021:

  1. Ultra-high-speed 5G (mmWave) network buildouts will achieve critical mass.

Initial commercial deployments have focused on high visibility, high traffic venues – stadiums, airports, and downtown cores in some large cities. The mmWave ecosystem has markedly matured in the past year – from the availability of products from chipsets to radios to smartphones, to the robustness of the supply chain, to mobile operators acquiring spectrum. All this leads to a tipping point in 2021 of mmWave achieving critical mass in the market. Significant percentages of urban centers will provide mmWave 5G coverage for a truly differentiated user experience from low-band and mid-band services. 

  1. Rural and suburban Fixed Wireless Access will grow substantially and provide a much better broadband experience in traditionally underserved areas.

RDOF seeks to bridge the digital divide by extending fixed broadband (defined as download speeds of 25 Mbps and above) to underserved areas. Fixed broadband can be delivered by fiber or by wireless. As the first networks are built and put into service, more people will have the freedom to migrate away from cities and continue to work from home.

  1. Public venue attendance at stadiums, arenas, and racetracks will make a strong comeback in the fall as COVID-19 vaccinations achieve substantial distribution.

2020 has been a very difficult year on many levels. Lockdowns and other pandemic measures have kept people isolated, and the pent-up desire for the return to ‘normal’ continues to build. Once it is safe to do so in 2021, people will get out of their homes with much anticipation and excitement. This will no doubt unlock another round of telecommunication infrastructure refreshes and upgrades.

  1. The auctions and subsequent deployment of the mid-band spectrum will allow the U.S. to catch up on 5G availability.

Mid-band spectrum – expanding beyond Band 41 (2496-2690 MHz) to include CBRS (3.55-3.7 GHz) and C-band (3.7-3.98 GHz) – strikes a balance between the wide coverage of low-band and the bandwidth capacity of high-band (mmWave).Clearing and releasing much needed additional spectrum is vital to the overall viability of 5G, a fact that the FCC understands and has taken action on. Expect networks to be deployed and services to start rolling out in 2021.

  1. 5G killer apps will start to appear on the market.

5G promises to be a technology platform for innovation across many industries.  Beyond high speeds and capacity, it can also deliver traffic with the ultra-low latency required for autonomous vehicles, industrial automation, and robotics, AR/VR, online gaming, to name a few. As 5G achieves widespread coverage and critical mass, new consumer apps that leverage 5G’s high-speed, low-latency capabilities will become available. While picking the winners will be difficult, it will certainly be exciting to see 5G delivering its promise as an innovation platform.