Verizon exec views dominant 4G LTE position as 5G advantage

As T-Mobile aggressively rolls out 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum from Sprint, there has been a significant amount of attention paid to Verizon and AT&T’s need for mid-band for 5G.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Adam Koeppe, SVP of Technology, Strategy Architecture and Planning, pointed to the carrier’s dominant position in 4G LTE as an advantage for how Verizon is constructing its network for differentiated 5G experiences, and touched on mid-band for nationwide 5G using DSS.

Because of the quiet period for the ongoing C-band spectrum auction, Koeppe couldn’t discuss anything about spectrum in the 3.7 GHz range other than to acknowledge Verizon’s participation.

Shared CBRS spectrum, meanwhile, he said is well suited for small cell deployments and indoor solutions, with a roadmap to 5G NR. Verizon scooped up priority access license (PAL) in the CBRS 3.5 GHz band in high-traffic areas, committing $1.89 billion at auction this summer. 

RELATED: Verizon CTO sees CBRS deployments as mix of outdoor, indoor

When it comes to mid-band in general though, Koeppe seemed to downplay T-Mobile’s push on 2.5 GHz for 5G, noting that mid-band is already widely used in 4G with PCS and AWS spectrum, which Verizon will use for its 5G nationwide experience as well via dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). 

“We can allocate 850 MHz spectrum, or 700 MHz spectrum or AWS as part of that DSS equation, so we have a fair amount of flexibility there with our existing mid-band assets,” Koeppe said.

With a strong 4G foundation, Verizon is using DSS “as a really sophisticated and efficient way to build that bridge” between 4G and 5G Ultra Wideband that uses millimeter wave, via its 5G Nationwide offering.

Earlier in the year, Brian Goemmer, president of AllNet Insights pointed out that Verizon won’t be able to claim nationwide “upper mid-band 5G” (like T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz) until it deploys C-band, even though it could use its lower-midband PCS and AWS holdings for 5G with DSS.

“But those spectrum blocks won’t support the 300-500 Mbps services that T-Mobile is supporting in their upper mid-band, especially since Verizon would be sharing that spectrum with LTE,” Goemmer said at the time.

Starting from a dominant position

T-Mobile may get praise for its headstart on mid-band spectrum for 5G, but in discussing Verizon’s 5G roadmap Koeppe suggested the carrier has an advantage because it’s “starting from a position of dominance on 4G LTE.”

Koeppe pointed to future expectations of 5G capabilities, like peak data rates of 10 Gbps and mobile data volumes of 10 Tbps per square kilometer, and most certainly lower latency and enhanced reliability   as to why Verizon has largely focused on deploying 5G with high-bandwidth millimeter wave spectrum for its "5G Ultra Wideband service."

RELATED: T-Mobile CEO touts mid-band spectrum lead in 5G

“Others aren’t quite in that same position,” of 4G LTE strength he said. “But we have the opportunity here to pursue what’s next and that’s where we focused our efforts on 5G Ultra Wideband using millimeter wave.”

Plans call for Ultra Wideband service in at least some parts of 60 cities by year’s end, with 55 already live. Initially, deployments started with 400 MHz of bandwidth and have since increased to 800 MHz of bandwidth, Koeppe noted, and Verizon can continue to add 39 GHz and technology like 5G carrier aggregation. Verizon’s already shown more than 4 Gbps on its mmWave network and 5 Gbps in the lab.

Verizon has led the charge on mmWave with deep spectrum holdings, and now mmWave support across the latest iPhone 12 models. It’s largely used 28 GHz spectrum for its UWB roll outs since that was available first and had equipment support, though some markets predominately use 39 GHz. 

“When you start combining those deployments at 28 GHz, 39 GHz in mmWave ranges, that’s when you get close to the 10 Gbps that’s the target for 5G capabilities he said.

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Every one of the markets Verizon’s deployed mmWave in has grown throughout the year, and Verizon’s been able to exceed its build objectives, Koeppe said.

Verizon deployed more base stations in Q3 2020 as it did in all of 2019. In early 2019 Verizon was limited by the amount of mmWave equipment it could roll out from vendors because of the time it takes for spectrum availability, approvals, testing, and standardization, and other aspects that go into deployment readiness.

“Whatever [equipment vendors] were able to make we deployed,” Koeppe said, noting those restrictions are no longer the case.

While mmWave is somewhat notorious for poor penetration and propagation characteristics, Verizon will start deploying in-building 5G sites from Corning and Samsung early next year, including for WeWork. Those also tie into a private network opportunity for enterprise.

Verizon has also deployed mmWave inside venues like stadiums, and signed partnerships with the NFL and NHL.

“This ecosystem that emerges when you have these incredible 5G capabilities that are being deployed all over the country, and in some places all over the world,” Koeppe said. “There’s a massive shift occurring and it’s a much bigger than [only] smartphones."