Despite delays, Verizon to hit 100M C-band coverage target this month

Despite running into some high-profile delays for activating C-band, Verizon says its 5G service using the mid-band airwaves is set to cover 100 million people later this month, which is ahead of schedule.

Verizon (and AT&T) yesterday agreed to another delay while concerns related to potential interference and air safety are sorted out between the FCC and Federal Aviation Administration, pushing an expected January 5 launch to January 19. Adam Koeppe, SVP of Technology Strategy Architecture and Planning for Verizon, said the important thing about the latest agreement is “we have a date certain now.”

“On the 19th our 5G Ultra Wideband C-band is launching,” Koeppe told Fierce on Tuesday.

The Ultra Wideband branding is already used for Verizon’s 5G service on millimeter wave spectrum and will now also incorporate C-band.

Covering 100 million people with C-band across 50 top markets by then will be on the early side of an end-of-March timeline, which Verizon outlined at its investor day in 2021 and continued to reiterate in recent weeks. And Koeppe said service will launch “with at least that many” PoPs (points of presence) covered by C-band.

RELATED: AT&T, Verizon agree to delay C-band launch – again

So, while Verizon has temporarily held off on turning on the mid-band airwaves for 5G (originally expected to launch December 5), those delays don’t seem to be impacting larger coverage targets or its ability to have a competitive offering.

“These couple small delays have just allowed us to build more sites,” he said, adding that commitments alongside additional mitigations for the FCC and FAA were made by Verizon in good faith so that the two agencies can work out their issues and alleviate aviation concerns. “The delays are manageable in that sense, but they do end on the 19th, and we’ll be ready to go.”

President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued a statement about the 5G deployment agreement reached Monday, calling it a significant step.

“This agreement ensures that there will be no disruptions to air operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to substantially reduce disruptions to air operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on January 19th,” Biden stated.

Once the first batch of 3.7 GHz C-band is turned on, it means 60 MHz of new spectrum is at disposal on the Verizon network – airwaves that are dedicated to 5G and don’t share bandwidth with 4G (for current nationwide 5G coverage Verizon’s used technology like dynamic spectrum sharing that allocates spectrum resources between both 4G and 5G users).

RELATED: Verizon relies on dynamic spectrum sharing more widely than AT&T – report

In total, Verizon has an average of 161 MHz of C-band nationwide. Mid-band spectrum is known as a sweet spot for 5G because it provides both coverage and capacity, which each have a tradeoff in lower band and millimeter wave spectrum.

Mid-band is seen as key in terms of network competitiveness, where T-Mobile has already been deploying 2.5 GHz. AT&T has 40 MHz of C-band that it, like Verizon, is waiting to deploy. The carriers also won additional C-band licenses at the FCC’s Auction 107, but those won’t come into play for a couple of years as satellite operations clear the band.

With the initial 60 MHz, Koeppe said Verizon expects to see peak speeds of 1 Gbps for 5G-capable devices on C-band. Last month the carrier gave a sneak peak of its pre-commercial C-band network in Los Angeles, where at least one analyst clocked speeds above 600 Mbps.

In terms of going from zero to 100 million PoPs in less than 12 months, Koeppe cited the very mature global C-band ecosystem and Verizon engineering know-how as two factors that played a part. For the ecosystem, he noted chipsets and devices are already widely available as well as equipment like radios and antennas needed to support C-band and that have been deployed around the world. That gave Verizon the ability to secure equipment from supplier partners “the minute the [FCC] auction closed,” teeing things up in advance.  

RELATED: Verizon deploys C-band gear from Ericsson, Samsung for its 5G network

However, Koeppe said the real differentiator is engineering, which also started right from the get-go.

“Our engineering and operations folks, literally 10 minutes after the C-band auction ended, they were out putting equipment up at locations all over the country,” he said. “And the work they have done in the short period of time from March to now is nothing short of phenomenal.”

Verizon customers with C-band supported 5G devices can tap the new spectrum as soon as it's available, with plans for C-band to also extend fixed wireless 5G Home Internet service as well. There are already “tens of millions” of customers on Verizon’s network with 5G devices that support the new airwaves, according to Koeppe.

RELATED: Verizon readies for 5G second wave, targets adoption and FWA

Ahead of the launch, Verizon is introducing new unlimited plans for phones, home internet and business internet starting January 5. The carrier isn’t charging extra for just 5G on C-band, with access included as long as customers are on a 5G plan.

“You’re seeing this great combination of coverage and capacity that will make Ultra Wideband a completely different experience in the market,” he added.