Verizon has deployed fixed 5G gear in 10+ U.S. cities—but it may not adhere to 3GPP standards

Verizon has installed 5G equipment for fixed wireless services in more than 10 U.S. cities, the company confirmed to FierceWireless. However, the company acknowledged that its equipment may not align with the 3GPP’s initial standards for 5G wireless services, and therefore Verizon may have to upgrade its physical equipment at its sites in the 10 cities in order to ensure that its services work with the 3GPP’s forthcoming 5G standard.

“We continue to work closely with our partners and the 3GPP community and expect a light lift from our pre-commercial phase, based on the Verizon 5GTF spec, into 3GPP standardized equipment,” said a Verizon spokesperson in response to questions from FierceWireless. “We have the support of our technical partners on this front and are pleased with the progress.”

The spokesman added that Verizon expects that its equipment for fixed 5G services will require only software or firmware updates for it to be compatible with the 3GPP’s forthcoming 5G standard. But if the carrier needs to upgrade its hardware, it doesn’t expect that to be much work. “Given that there is a limited number of these nodes in the pre-comm phase, even if they need to be physically replaced it is a light lift,” the spokesman said.

Verizon did not name the cities in which it has deployed its fixed 5G equipment, nor did it provide any further details on the effort. Ericsson however said it is supplying equipment in three of those cities.

Verizon’s comments on its fixed 5G equipment indicate it is prepared to upgrade the equipment it has already deployed in order to align that equipment with the 3GPP’s forthcoming standard for 5G network technology. According to Ericsson’s Arun Bansal, the company’s SVP and head of business unit network products, the 3GPP during November and December completed much of its standards-setting work on the initial 5G standard—almost a year ahead of its initial schedule. He said that, although the standards body has not officially issued a specification for 5G, the group has completed enough of the standard that equipment makers can start building 5G equipment with confidence that they can update that equipment to the final 5G standard with software updates only—meaning, they won’t need to change any of the actual hardware from this point on.

That 3GPP milestone for the 5G standard is critical to equipment suppliers because it means they can now start building the network hardware required to launch 5G services. It’s time consuming and expensive to upgrade existing hardware to meet a standard, but upgrading software on existing hardware to meet a standard is far less expensive and much easier to do.

Verizon last year released preliminary standards for a fixed version of 5G through its 5G Technology Forum at the group’s website, Verizon formed the group in 2015 with Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung to create specifications for a fixed wireless service in the 28 and 39 GHz bands. Verizon has said it will deploy commercial fixed 5G services using the specifications sometime in 2017.

There have already been indications that Verizon’s 5GTF specifications wouldn’t adhere to the 3GPP’s forthcoming 5G standards. In October, Signals Research Group founder Michael Thelander said that there wasn’t an obvious migration path between Verizon’s 5GTF platform and what at that time was being developed by 3GPP.

Specifically, Thelander said Verizon’s specs denote a sub-carrier spacing of 75 kHz, something Verizon unsuccessfully argued for inclusion in the standards during an August 3GPP RAN1 meeting. That spacing wasn’t included in the 3GPP’s current specs, which call for subcarrier spacing for 5G New Radio (NR) to be 15 kHz, 30 kHz, 60 kHz, 120 kHz, etc., Thelander said in October.

Verizon isn’t the only carrier moving forward with fixed 5G services. AT&T this week said it will conduct a trial in Austin, Texas, with residential customers streaming DirecTV Now video service over a fixed wireless 5G connection starting in the first half of 2017.