Verizon races to get 5G to all 30 markets by year’s end

MAUI, HAWAII—For some folks, the last month of the year is a time to start winding down, getting ready for the holidays and slowly detaching from the daily work grind. For Verizon engineers, it’s anything but that as they scurry to reach the 30 5G markets the company set for its goal by the end of this year.

It’s already deployed 5G in 18 markets, so that makes 12 more to go. “We set a goal and we’ll meet the goal,” said Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s senior vice president of technology and product development, on the sidelines of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit. (Full disclosure: Qualcomm sponsored this reporter's travel and accommodations to attend the event.) 

“We are on target," Palmer said. "People are working like crazy,” including over Thanksgiving last week, when Verizon ran a commercial featuring real engineers and thanking them. “Everyone’s going gangbusters,” and that includes every area, from planning, design, engineering and permitting to getting the equipment. Verizon is using gear from Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

No doubt, there’s a lot of stress, but she said Verizon’s engineering team is up to the task. “That’s what they do. I’d put them up against anybody. They’re the best in the business,” she added.

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Some of Verizon's 5G gear atop the Grand Wailea. (FierceWireless)

On stage Tuesday, Palmer talked about Verizon’s 5G deployments, including in 14 NFL stadiums and four arenas like Chase Stadium in San Francisco. Verizon also boasts 5G on the beach, with its deployment in Maui. A year ago, Verizon had 5G at the summit for demonstration purposes, but it wasn’t a permanent deployment. Now, it’s in Maui and “it’s here to stay,” she said.

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What comes next are tools like 5G distributed antenna systems (DAS). 5G DAS gear isn’t really here yet, but it will be in 2020, she said. “That will be very helpful,” she said. DAS typically has been used by carriers in venues like stadiums to improve or augment coverage and capacity.

In addition, new repeater technology is coming down the pike, and Verizon is working with some unnamed companies to bring the 5G signal indoors; expect more of that in 2020.

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Palmer reiterated the company’s message on mmWave: Millimeter works better than many experts thought; the fear was rain and other things in the environment will affect the band. While that’s true, in the real world deployments, Verizon is using beam forming and a network of 5G cells that are getting the job done despite what mmWave’s critics say. “It’s doing a lot more than what we thought, and we’re really bullish on the technology,” Palmer said.

Asked about mmWave in rural areas, she noted that over a year ago, Panama City, Florida, was devastated by a hurricane and Verizon brought it back online with 5G. “The game plan is we go big and we scale, and we have a lot of spectrum holdings,” she said. “We did that on purpose because we think the use cases are going to demand that type of speed and bandwidth.”

“Our thrust right now is millimeter wave,” she said. “We believe that provides a fantastic experience for consumers and businesses alike.”