Verizon's Adam Koeppe on 5G SA, slicing and yes, small cells

Will 2024 be the year for 5G Standalone (SA) and network slicing? 

According to Verizon’s SVP of Network Planning Adam Koeppe, several pieces of the 5G SA equation are coming together.

Verizon Adam Koeppe headshot
Adam Koeppe (Verizon)

That includes the chipsets that support the 5G SA-capable devices, the network infrastructure on the Radio Access Network (RAN) and core network functions. All of those things need to advance at the same cadence to ensure they’re ready to make their debut in front of customers.  

“We have spent probably more time on the development and testing process than maybe some others have, but we also had the luxury of time, in a sense,” Koeppe told Fierce.

As more smartphones and IoT devices that support 5G SA get adopted in the marketplace, “that’s how you want to time your SA-capable core and radio access network, so that the three of those things can basically evolve together,” he said. “At no point in time do you want to introduce something that’s going to be less than what it was before.”

If that sounds familiar, that’s because a similar message came from Verizon’s head of Global Networks and Technology Joe Russo last year, when he talked about being in no hurry to get to nationwide 5G SA because they want to make sure it’s going to be a real benefit to customers and not a step back in any way.  

Koeppe calls it a deliberate approach but acknowledges that some people will call it “slow.”

Either way, “our goal was to have those three things progress together and ensure that we put the SA core through the testing process that we do with every other part of the network,” he said.

All that’s going on right now, so expect a lot more 5G SA coming to life through 2024.

Part of the equation also involves spectrum. Years before 5G SA comes to market, Verizon started deploying its C-band spectrum, for which it spent more than $45 billion in 2021 before clearing costs. Where it’s deployed C-band, it’s narrowing the gap with T-Mobile when it comes to 5G speeds and functions.

They feel good about the timing. “We’ve been able to focus on our radio access network deployment with a dedicated C-band 5G deployment and bring a 5G core network along with SA capabilities as the device penetration has grown, so the timing works out very well for us,” Koeppe said.

Slicing and dicing

Tied to 5G SA is network slicing, which has been talked about for years as one of the great use cases for 5G, with operators being able to dedicate a “slice” of the network to match the network performance requirements of a specific application. The idea was to sell a slice to an enterprise, for example, and get a better return on investment for operators’ 5G investments. Suffice it to say, it's been a long time coming. 

Verizon has teased some network slicing use cases, like with Axon Enterprise where an in-car video system is used to help enhance situational awareness for law enforcement members who aren’t on the scene.

During the Formula 1 race in Las Vegas in November, Verizon engineers created a network slice that enabled race car driver Lando Norris to livestream HD video on a Verizon 5G mobile device while he gave a tour of the McLaren garage. In a demo video, Norris talks about how network slicing allows Verizon to match network resources with user requirements in real time.

Expect more of that in 2024, when “we’ll have the network basically set and ready for that in the first half of this year that allows those use cases to flourish with network slicing as a capability to deliver that,” he said. “We feel good about that timing,” which aligns well with devices that support those capabilities.

Small cells: yes

Asked about small cells – an area that seems to enamor the industry whenever carriers start to exhaust their macro “G” deployments – Koeppe said Verizon has been deploying small cells for the last eight years or so. He didn’t say exactly how many it’s deployed but it’s part and parcel to the RF design, usually for dense urban areas or population centers.

Each year, the number of small cell deployments varies, but “I don’t really see a scenario where they aren’t” part of the solution, he said.  

For the last two years, Verizon has been doing C-band deployments at macro sites, so there’s been less need for small cells. Two years before that, it was deploying millimeter wave (mmWave) small cells “til the cows came home” – like on the order of 40,000 small cells, he said.  

This year, “you’ll actually see C-band small cells. That’s a product we’re putting into the network,” he said. “They’re a part of the toolbox and where we need them, we deploy them. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”