Verizon dodges 5G coverage question, stresses ‘5G Built Right’

Verizon has launched mobile 5G service in parts of 15 markets so far and it’s network team, led by CTO Kyle Malady, is planning for a busy last few weeks of this quarter to get to a total of 30 markets up and running with 5G by the end of this year, according to its CFO.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley European Technology, Media & Telecom Conference 2019 in Barcelona, Verizon EVP and CFO Matt Ellis reiterated that the 5G build is going as expected—Verizon calls it “5G Built Right”—and it’s seeing the performance it expected from millimeter wave (mmWave) technology. That’s notable because mmWave continues to be the subject of speculation by some analysts who question the viability of it due to propagation characteristics.

At CES earlier this year, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg talked about the eight currencies that are tied to 5G. “To deliver all of the promise that 5G has to offer, you have to build it the right way,” Ellis said, “so bringing in all of the spectrum that we have, with the millimeter wave spectrum that we have, to those 15 cities" means customers with a 5G device can get downloads between 1 and 2 gigabits per second. That’s before all the latest software capabilities are deployed; that’s still ongoing.

It’s also seeing “tremendous interest” from enterprise customers in terms of what 5G means for their businesses. The partnership with Corning announced during Mobile World Congress Los Angeles is an example of what 5G can do in the manufacturing space.

“A lot of tremendous progress,” and Verizon in October turned on its first 5G Home fixed wireless service in Chicago based on the global 5G standard versus its earlier rollouts using its proprietary 5G Technology Forum (TF) specification.

Verizon initially launched 5G Home in October 2018 in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento using that proprietary technology. As the 3GPP standard emerged, Verizon wanted its suppliers to pivot to the standard for economies of scale and other reasons.

“We launched in those four markets and we’ve learned a heck of a lot,” Ellis said. For one thing, the penetration rate where the service is available is competitive against other services, and for another, Verizon has seen engagement and high customer satisfaction scores where it is available, he said.

One difference in Chicago that it didn’t have in the earlier four markets is the ability to offer customers a self-serve installation option. In the earlier 5G Home markets, it used the white glove treatment and gave the customer a four-hour window for an installer to appear, which was important in the early days. But now, it’s offering customers the opportunity to do their own installation, and it’s seeing a good degree of interest in that in Chicago.

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T-Mobile has said it will be the first in the U.S. with a nationwide 5G network, covering 200 million people by the end of this year using its 600 MHz spectrum. Verizon hasn’t given coverage targets, and Ellis was asked about that.

“We think it’s important … when you move from one generation of technology to another, the improvement in performance—it shouldn’t be a 10% improvement in performance, it should be a 10x improvement in performance,” he said. “We’re focused on building out 5G using millimeter wave and doing it the way you see us doing it.”

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Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) is an important part of the strategy that allows it to use a band of spectrum dynamically for both 4G and 5G. Verizon also holds lower band spectrum where LTE is deployed. 

“We have a path to increasing the coverage but our focus is on delivering those 5G experiences” that really demonstrate to a customer—consumer or B2B—that 5G is significantly different from 4G, he said.

Mid-band spectrum?

Verizon sees Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) at 3.5 GHz as complementary to its spectrum portfolio and the team is actively engaged in working with it. As for other mid-band spectrum, such as the C-band, it would be very interested to see C-band coming to market, he said, but it’s not in control of that process.

If C-band gets to the point where it has an approved approach at the FCC, “we certainly look forward to participating” in that, but right now, the C-Band Alliance (CBA) needs to get a process through the FCC. “We look forward to them doing that.”

Whether it lands on the FCC’s December meeting agenda will be known by the end of next week when the agenda gets published.