Verizon CEO: COVID-19 crisis reinforces FWA strategy

Home broadband usage skyrocketed over the past couple months due to the COVID-19 crisis and that has only reinforced Verizon’s strategy for its fixed wireless access (FWA) offering, according to CEO Hans Vestberg.

Usage shifted from urban areas and office buildings to residential areas as people practice social distancing and work from home, causing demand to surge for both wireless and fiber services for the home.

“It has not changed how we think about doing 5G Home or 5G fixed wireless access,” Vestberg said, speaking during a virtual J.P. Morgan investor conference on Tuesday. “It has only sort of reinforced that it’s a great solution and again, using the network that we already have built… It just reinforces a good monetization of the multi-purpose network.”

RELATED: Verizon tweaks 5G Home, puts 5G repeaters on road map

Verizon is using the same network it uses to offer 5G mobility services, which it calls Ultra Wideband, to offer the 5G Home service, which is a FWA offering to the home or small business. Both services use millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.

However, the mobile 5G service is available in more than 30 cities and the company expects to offer it in more than 60 markets by the end of the year. The FWA service is available in only a handful of markets and plans call for offering it in 10 markets by year's end.

Theoretically, Verizon could have 5G Home or FWA in all of its mmWave markets where it offers the mobile 5G, but “we need the next generation chipset in order to have a CPE that is really giving the right type of intelligence with the network. That is coming in the latter part of this year. I would say Q4,” Vestberg said.

RELATED: Pivotal takes ‘lemons’ out of mmWave to improve coverage

Verizon management about three years ago said the aim is to have coverage for 30 million households. That mission is still there, he said, adding: “It’s going to take us a couple of years.” It has learned a lot from the FWA deployments in four cities where it uses the Verizon Technical Forum (TF)-based technology and the one city – Chicago – that launched last year using the 3GPP standards-based 5G New Radio (NR) specification.

Executives have said it’s important to work out the kinks for a self-installable product that consumers can use in their home or office.

5G update

The 5G buildout is progressing despite the COVID-19 lockdowns and in some cases, Verizon has been ahead of the plan when it comes to radio base stations. It’s on schedule to deploy five times the number of small cells this year compared to last year, and it’s finding ways to get permits approved by municipalities digitally, according to Vestberg.  

In the beginning of the year, the company said all the 5G devices coming out from Verizon will have mmWave in them and that there would be some 20 devices. “At this stage, we have no delays on any of them,” he said.

Verizon is on track to deploy dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) this year, which will enable it to advertise a nationwide 5G service. DSS allows an operator to use the same spectrum for both LTE and 5G, so it can use its lower band spectrum for that.

The big missing piece for Verizon is mid-band spectrum, and while Vestberg could not comment on the upcoming CBRS auction due to FCC rules, he said it remains interested in the C-band auction, which is set to begin in December.