Verizon in a millimeter wave groove, CTO Malady says

C-band deployments may be front and center as 2021 progresses, but Verizon continued to build millimeter wave 5G sites throughout the pandemic and has gotten into a good rhythm to support high traffic areas, according to CTO Kyle Malady.

In March Verizon said it expected to build 14,000 additional mmWave sites by the end of the year, while allocating an additional $10 billion over three years for C-band deployment. It spent big to acquire 161-megahertz on average nationwide of the midband spectrum at the FCC’s recent auction and as of 2020 had more than 2,000-megahertz of mmWave.

Speaking Monday at a Wells Fargo investor conference, Malady noted that unlike C-band, where existing macro grid infrastructure will serve initial deployments, “millimeter wave is a different story. I need to build.”

That means zoning, laying fiber, getting access to light poles and other infrastructure and deploying equipment.

“But we’ve really got our groove on and we’re really in a cadence of it,” Malady said, adding there’s still a lot more work.  But even during Covid the team continued momentum and the carrier is on track and “a little bit ahead so far” to hit its target number of sites.

Verizon plans to continue adding around 14,000 small cells for the next few years to build up coverage. Many leverage the carrier’s fiber assets and build, with Malady saying about a third of cell sites and small cells are on Verizon-owned fiber that provides owner’s economics and control to maintain quality and reliability if issues arise.

For mmWave, he pointed to scaling in urban areas, plus coverage in locations where large groups of people gather like stadiums and event venues.

Eventually, Verizon expects millimeter wave to carry 50% of urban traffic. It’s worth noting that recent third-party testing from Opensignal found U.S. users connected to mmWave 5G less than 1% of the time across each of the three major carriers.

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In addition to urban, Malady said mmWave will make its way into some small suburban towns, where there are places, such as a town center, that could benefit from added capacity and high bandwidth.

Verizon also kept up its work on in-building systems over the past year.

“It was kind of a bummer for us. We’re putting in all this gear and we could see all this great capability but no one was in the stadiums,” Malady said. “So we were a little disappointed with that but I’m glad we did.”

The technology chief pointed to the recent Indy 500 as an example of crowds gathering again and where Malady said people were getting “a fantastic experience” on its 5G  Ultra Wideband. As people start to come back to in-person events, he’s excited as developers work on new applications and experiences for people in stadiums.

At the Indianapolis 500, Verizon Business also partnered with AiFi to allow visitors to purchase snacks, beverages and merchandise via an AI-powered, autonomous “Nanostore” running on Verizon’s 5G network.

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With C-band deployments coming up as satellite operators clear the band for the first batch this year, the spectrum gives broader capacity to support Verizon’s plans for a network that supports both wireless, mobile and fixed wireless traffic. And capacity is why Verizon went big at the C-band auction, as well as on mmWave purchases, Malady noted.

“Now we have a lot of spectrum and that gives me the confidence to be able to support a multi-purpose network” for a variety of use cases.

Providing home broadband with fixed wireless is something that could have been done with LTE, he said, but Verizon didn’t have enough spectrum to do so. In addition to its 5G Home product using 28 GHz in limited markets, Verizon now offers LTE-based fixed wireless service “but only if we have spare capacity.”

“But now if I bring millimeter wave in, and I have C-band -  I bring all my spectrum to bear – I feel confident we can do this” and do it in way that’s consistent with quality that customers expect, he said.

5G Home is focused on consumer broadband and Verizon expects to cover 50 million homes by the end of 2025, but it also sees enterprise opportunity. Malady said small and medium business seem “to be a no-brainer” if the carrier can offer a fixed wireless service that’s easy to use, buy and set up.

RELATED: Verizon's SVP of enterprise talks NaaS, fixed wireless, private MEC

Verizon offers 5G fixed wireless for business customers in 24 cities.

In December, Verizon’s Sampath Sowmyanaraya told Fierce certain Walgreens stores would be getting 5G fixed wireless service, as part of a larger Network-as-a-Service deal covering 9,000 Duane Reed and Walgreens branded retail locations across the U.S.