Verizon: We’re ready to go with 3.5 GHz, will be primarily outdoors

DALLAS—Verizon said it’s ready to deploy 3.5 GHz CBRS services now, and it expects to initially use the band for outdoor coverage.

Verizon’s Bill Stone, VP of the carrier’s technology planning and development, provided additional insights into the operator’s 3.5 GHz plans here at the FierceWireless Next Gen Wireless Networks Summit.

His comments are particularly noteworthy considering the FCC is scheduled to vote on final rules for the 3.5 GHz band during the agency’s open meeting next week. The vote—most industry observers expect the agency to approve the proposed rules—likely will pave the way for the wireless industry to take its first concrete steps toward commercial wireless services in a band that was once reserved exclusively for the U.S. Navy and other military operations. The FCC is voting on rules that would release spectrum in the band for commercial use through a first-of-its-kind sharing technology.

“It’s a very new and unique band,” Verizon’s Stone said. “I’m pretty excited about 3.5 GHz.”

Added Stone, “We are ready to go when the FCC gives us the green light.”

Further, Stone explained that Verizon views the 3.5 GHz band initially as an “outdoor play” that the carrier will enable largely through the small cells it is deploying in cities across the country.

“It’s a very economical way to add capacity outdoors,” he said, adding that Verizon likely would employ carrier aggregation technology in the 3.5 GHz band in order to provide additional capacity to customers. Carrier aggregation technology allows wireless network operators to essentially “glue” together disparate spectrum bands in order to provide faster services, much like adding additional lanes of traffic to a freeway.

Stone explained that Verizon would likely use the General Authorized Access (GAA) iteration of 3.5 GHz first—the FCC is planning to release CBRS spectrum first in the mostly unlicensed GAA format and then, later, in the licensed Priority Access Licenses (PAL) format.

However, Stone warned that “right now there are no devices that support the CBRS band,” he said. “They’re lined up and ready, they’re just not here yet.”

He said he expects CBRS devices to begin to hit the market next year, and he said that customers who choose to upgrade to those devices “are going to benefit significantly” from faster connections.

Verizon isn’t the only company promising to immediately take advantage of 3.5 GHz spectrum. “We know we’re ready. We’ve done 50-plus trials,” said Kurt Schaubach, CTO of Federated Wireless, one of the companies that is selling database technology that will manage sharing among users in the 3.5 GHz band.

And network construction company ExteNet Systems is also ready to deploy CBRS systems. ExteNet's Jeff Alexander said that the company is testing 3.5 GHz systems in several sports stadiums and, if the company received approval to do so, he said ExteNet “could be ready on several stadiums easily by the end of the year.”

Verizon of course isn’t alone in its plans to deploy services in 3.5 GHz. AT&T last month announced that it selected Samsung and CommScope to supply its first 5G-ready CBRS network solution; the operator has said it plans to initially use 3.5 GHz spectrum for its ongoing fixed wireless service buildout.