Verizon fiber exec dishes on build progress, cell site upgrades

Verizon seems to be moving along with its fiber expansion, as the carrier last week put out a release noting it’s deployed nearly 57,000 fiber miles since 2020.

That number includes fiber built outside the Fios footprint, according to Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s SVP of network engineering. What it doesn’t include is Verizon’s recently announced builds that leverage American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.

In 2023 alone, Verizon unveiled it’s undertaking subsidized broadband projects in Delaware, Maryland, western Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“With ARPA, we’ve participated in it and won it, we’re just in the process of starting the build process, which will include planning prior to the actual construction,” Hemmer told Fierce.

On the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) front, she said Verizon is currently responding to any RFPs that come in, but the BEAD RFPs in the company’s ILEC footprint “haven’t actually started to flow yet.”

“We expect those to start late ’23 this year and early next year, and we’ll respond to them as they are released,” said Hemmer.

Verizon in its release also stated it’s connected over 51% of its own cell sites with fiber – a slight uptick from the 48% estimate it gave in September 2022.

“We’ve also upgraded that fiber as we’ve gone to C-Band, because C-Band has allowed our mobility customers to have so much more capacity on the radio link with that additional spectrum,” Hemmer explained. “We needed to make sure that the fiber builds that we have not become a choke point on that capacity.”

Verizon originally put in 1-gig fiber to its cell sites, and it’s “upgraded almost all of those to 10-gig.”

“Now we’re working with our partners in the markets where we don’t have our own fiber to upgrade all those sites as well – up to three, five or 10-gig depending on the capacity that we have,” she added.

Verizon has said it plans to build 500,000 new Fios passings in 2023, as it works to increase its overall footprint to 18 million locations.

Hemmer said “we don’t have any concerns hitting that [goal] for this year,” noting Verizon is still building new locations in its Fios footprint as well as continuing “to open new households.”

Copper retirement update

In terms of copper retirement progress, she commented Verizon thus far has upgraded 5.2 million circuits from copper to fiber – up from 4.1 million last year.

Verizon in 2022 had “converted 36 of our offices [from copper to fiber],” and currently “we’re up to 63 now.”

She added “there is the possibility we would accelerate” some copper retirement, following the Wall Street Journal’s report on lead-sheathed telco cables.

“We’re taking a very scientific approach to it and are doing our own studies with a third party to come in and [see] if there is any impact from lead-sheathing, and then we’ll make a plan based on the data that we find,” said Hemmer.