Verizon delivers standards-based 5G Home in Chicago

Verizon on Thursday will expand its 5G Home broadband offering to Chicago, but unlike four initial launch cities, the Chicago service uses the global 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) standard.

Verizon first rolled out its in-home fixed wireless 5G service in parts Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento last October, but at the time used its own proprietary 5G TF standard before 3GPP-compliant equipment became available.

Verizon’s 5G home broadband product in Chicago is compatible with the mobile 5G NR network that the carrier has been deploying in select cities. A Verizon representative said existing 5G Home customers’ equipment will be upgraded to the latest technology at no additional charge, as previously promised. 

Verizon will transition the first four 5G Home cities to its new mobile network in the second half of 2020, according to CNET.

Verizon is promising the same speeds in Chicago as in other cities for 5G Home, with average download speeds of 300 Mbps and peak speeds of 1 Gbps. Customers still get the first three months of service free, and then it costs $50 per month for those with Verizon wireless service, and $70 per month for those without. The carrier is also offering one free month of YouTube TV, and choice of Stream TV, Fire TV Cube, or Fire TV Stick 4K.

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The carrier said it’s providing the first commercially available Wi-Fi 6 router, that includes Bluetooth playback and parental controls, as well as built-in Amazon Alexa to control smart home devices and access more than 100,000 skills.

Verizon initially performed free white-glove installations of its 5G in-home broadband service, but now says customers can self-install. However, technicians will still come if needed, and can help find the best placement for the router or antenna, the latter of which is usually affixed to a window. Customers will also get one Wi-Fi extender mini for free, and can purchase additional extenders if needed.

Verizon has previously received some skepticism for launching a millimeter wave 5G home product. MoffettNathanson analysts in March questioned the economic feasibility of scaling the service, which requires expensive short-range 5G small cells that may not provide significant coverage.

The report looked at findings in Sacramento, six months after launch and found the mmWave “cell radii appear much smaller” than expected, according to VentureBeat, and only 6% of homes in areas tested had access to the product, while less than 3% of residences in those areas subscribed to the 5G Home service.   

However, Verizon has said it's building its 5G network for both mobile and home use, and the carrier plans to continue the expansion of its 5G Home product into 2020 and onward, Brian Higgins, Verizon’s vice president of device and consumer product marketing, told CNET.

On the mobile side, Verizon has service in select parts of 13 cities and pledged to expand to more than 30 by year-end. The service has been delivering super-fast speeds in launch cities, but as expected with millimeter wave frequencies (Verizon is using 28 GHz spectrum), coverage is very limited depending how close users are to a 5G node.

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The carrier is also focusing on large venues, bringing 5G connectivity to sports and entertainment arenas, including 13 NFL stadiums this year. On Friday three more venues were added, with Verizon announcing 5G is available in parts of the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, the Chace Center in San Francisco, and the Pepsi Center in Denver. 

In terms of FWA, many smaller wireless internet service providers already deliver fixed wireless broadband services in more rural communities across the U.S., but Verizon isn’t the only major carrier with eyes on FWA for home broadband. 

Competitor (and often vocal critic) T-Mobile is working to secure approval to merge with Sprint and earlier this year pledged the combined company would bring in-home broadband services to 9.5 million customers by 2024, leveraging its 5G network.

T-Mobile in March began piloting FWA service on its 4G LTE network to about 50,000 subscribers. The company said it would target rural and underserved areas, charging $50 per month for speeds around 50 Mbps. Once the merger with Sprint is complete, T-Mobile said it could cover more than half of U.S. ZIP codes with fixed wireless broadband delivering over 100 Mbps by 20204. 

The U.S. Department of Justice already signed off on the deal and the FCC recently made its blessing official, but the deal still faces opposition from a collation of state attorneys general that are suing to block the merger.