Verizon beefs up C-band deployment to 175M by end of 2022

Verizon will cover more than 175 million people with its 5G Ultra Wideband service by the end of 2022, executives said during its investor event Thursday.

Last year, Verizon said it expected to provide service Ultra Wideband 5G to 175 million people over the course of 2022 and 2023, so it’s hitting that target significantly faster than previously planned. They expect to cover at least 250 million people by the end of 2024.

Verizon currently serves 100 million people with its C-band 3.7 GHz spectrum.

Executives didn’t elaborate on the delays related to the C-band, which originally was supposed to be deployed in December but was postponed by both Verizon and AT&T due to concerns related to aviation safety. That sparked a big controversy over the holidays and wasn’t resolved until mid-January.

RELATED: Despite delays, Verizon to hit 100M C-band coverage target this month

Even with those delays and the need to accommodate incumbent satellite players in the band, which were required to move out of the lower C-band to make way for 5G, Verizon still managed to improve over its original C-band buildout targets.

“We got to the 100 million quicker than we thought,” said President of Global Networks & Technology Kyle Malady during the investor meeting. “Our next goal is the 175. We have the resources. We have the people. We have the money. I have the equipment and we’re out there and we feel good” about meeting the 175 million population target.  

“We’re going to keep expanding as quick as we can possibly can,” he said, referring to some issues in the supply chain that are "not really affecting us."

Hurray for mmWave

Verizon has taken its share of heat for making millimeter wave (mmWave) such a key part of its 5G strategy. Verizon’s "5G Ultra Wideband" moniker includes both C-band and mmWave; however, the mmWave spectrum covers small areas within cities whereas the C-band provides much better coverage pretty much everywhere else.

The company didn’t have access to a lot of mid-band spectrum until the C-band auction, where it obtained licenses for an average 160 MHz in major markets. However, it did amass a large amount of mmWave spectrum, especially in the 28 GHz band, years ago when that spectrum became available via FCC auctions.

Executives during the meeting on Thursday emphasized their commitment to mmWave. Verizon now has more than 33,000 mmWave sites on the air, and average daily usage is up 856% year over year, Malady said.

Its best area for mmWave usage is In Boston, where 42% of 5G connections are on mmWave. “Millimeter wave is vital to our 5G plan to support and scale usage in dense urban areas,” Malady said. Right now, it’s available in about 30% of its customers’ devices as well.

Malady also revealed during the meeting that Verizon will start moving fixed wireless accounts to the 5G standalone (SA) core in June, with mobile broadband customers to follow in 2023, as well as support for network slicing use cases. Verizon currently uses a non-standalone (NSA) 5G core for its 5G services in markets across the U.S.

Fixed wireless expansion

Verizon’s mobile customers use its network a lot during the day, but their usage decreases in the evening. Conversely, fixed wireless access (FWA) usage patterns are higher later in the day, he noted. That allows the carrier to use its capacity for more hours of the day, which leads to part of the reason it’s so gung-ho about it FWA opportunities.

With FWA, Verizon is going after the same market traditionally served by cable providers. The company expects more than 150,000 net additions for fixed wireless access in the first quarter of 2022.

RELATED: Verizon readies for 5G second wave, targets adoption and FWA

Verizon now covers more than 30 million households with its FWA product, and it plans to cover 50 million households and to have 4 million to 5 million total fixed wireless subscribers by year-end 2025.

About their FWA aspirations, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said in the 3G and 4G era, there were a lot of attempts to do stand-alone FWA, and the economics really didn’t make sense. “That’s why we built the multi-purpose network,” he said. “That was a design principle from the beginning.”