Verizon sees small cell, dark fiber strategies as differentiators in 5G world: report

As Verizon continues to seek a leadership role in the increasingly crowded 5G space, the company believes its small cell densification and expanded dark fiber footprint strategy will serve as key differentiators in a 5G world.

That’s according to a research note distributed by Barclays analysts who had a chance to host Verizon SVP of Technology, Strategy & Planning Ed Chan during Barclays' Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference this week. Noting that the company has narrowed its timing for initial commercial deployments from 2017 to early 2017, “we believe we could start to see proof points of the technology’s potential within a relatively short time frame,” said analysts Amir Rozwadowski, Matt Bienkowski and Justine Humenansky.

They noted that the carrier has leveraged three major tools to augment capacity:

  • Reframing spectrum
  • Using technology advancements like C-RAN, massive MIMO and carrier aggregation
  • Small cell densification/expanding its dark fiber footprint

While management didn’t go into specifics about whether or not competitors, especially those with nationwide fiber footprints, could develop a similar infrastructure, Verizon does see its 5G head start as a key advantage, according to the analysts.

“Specifically, when it comes to building out dense small cell networks, it requires close relationships with municipalities (something it has been developing for some time). In addition, Verizon has a first mover advantage on spectrum through its purchase of XO Communications,” they wrote.

The several hundred megahertz of millimeter wave bandwidth that Verizon got via the acquisition of XO, which the FCC approved last month, is a big advantage for the compant, according to Verizon Communications CEO and Chairman Lowell McAdam, who made an appearance at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference in New York on Tuesday.

He noted that the FCC's XO approval was the first approval he's seen in his career where "we had absolutely no comments from the FCC." Verizon can now move forward rapidly with that deployment. 

“The devices are going to be extremely simple,"  he said, according to a transcript posted on the company’s website. "It is basically the kind of router that you have in your home only with a 5G chip in it versus the fiber conversion chip. So the time to market is greatly compressed for us. We don't need to worry about handsets and tablets and mobility handovers and that sort of thing. That is the business case that proves 5G.”

McAdam said Verizon will be bringing up relatively small towns in a pre-commercial architecture in the first quarter. “We won’t be charging for the service, but we will be learning from it and figuring out the distance between the transmitter and the receiver in a 5G environment,” he said, 

He thinks Boston is going to be the prototype of the architect for networks to come. “We are going out and putting $300 million and we’re going into—deep into the neighborhoods and, as we do this, we are working with other companies to put in a smart city sort of architecture,” he said. One of those is replacing street lighting with new poles that are LED in order to save money for the city on electricity. “Every one of those poles has the capability of being a 4G cell site as well as a 5G cell site.”

He also reiterated that fixed wireless deployments are ahead of mobile. “Let’s be clear on what we mean by 5G,” he said. “I call it wireless fiber. If you think about the way we deploy FiOs today, we go fiber all the way into the home and then Wi-Fi within the home. This will allow you to stop anywhere from 200 feet to 1,000 feet, somewhere in that range we think, from the home and then make it a wireless last leg into the home. And I think that is going to be the predominant architecture for wireless service going forward.”