Verizon tweaks 5G Home, puts 5G repeaters on road map

LOS ANGELES—Verizon has been busy over the past year tweaking its 5G Home product offering, which was first introduced using pre-standardized TF-based technology a year ago. Flash forward, and it’s got a new version of fixed wireless access (FWA) running on 3GPP-based 5G New Radio (NR), which it’s launching in Chicago, and other enhancements based on its year in the field.

As part of the Chicago launch, the carrier said it’s providing the first commercially available Wi-Fi 6 router that includes Bluetooth playback and parental controls, as well as built-in Amazon Alexa. An app helps customers figure out where to put the equipment in their homes; Verizon is offering to help them out if they run into trouble, but the idea is to make it self-installable.

“There are many, many firsts here,” said Brian Higgins, vice president of device and consumer product marketing at Verizon, on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress Los Angeles. Last year was a learning year for 5G Home. “We took all that information in, and in parallel we were building this product that we’re launching now, and this is the end result.”

In October 2018, Verizon launched 5G Home in parts of four markets: Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento, which will be upgraded to the 3GPP-based version over time at no new cost to the customers.

It’s not releasing any subscriber numbers, but “the win share, which we do take a look at very closely, has been extremely positive because you’ve had embedded broadband providers in place for many, many years,” Higgins said. “We’ve been able to come in and take what we think is more than our fair share of win opportunities in the market.”

That includes people moving into new homes and people switching from the incumbent provider to Verizon. “We’re very encouraged,” he said. For one, consumers are excited about it—it's a brand new technology and Verizon has been the only one out there with it for over a year.  

For another, they’re trying to simplify the offer—it comes in at a flat rate of either $50 or $70; it’s $50 if you’re a current Verizon customer, with no taxes or fees. The customer gets all the equipment, a service that delivers 300 Mbps that can go up to 1 Gig, and ”it’s extremely high performing, so all those things pulled together has been what we believe is really interesting for our customers.”

The chipset in the gear launched in Chicago is based on a smartphone type of chipset; there’s another generation of a 5G chipset that’s going to be higher power, and that’s expected next year. Higgins also clarified that Verizon has its own separate initiative on the CPE gear, and it’s not tied into the announcement Qualcomm made last week about 30 OEMs having signed up to use its modem for FWA CPE equipment.

Verizon spent a long time on the design. Customers get a router and CPE equipment; the CPE is what captures the 5G signal; inside the house or apartment, the signal is Wi-Fi. But there is a desire for that 5G signal from outside to be the signal inside as well. “It’s one of the things we’re working on,” he said. “You should expect that 5G repeaters are in our road map as well.”

There was a time in the industry when carriers wanted to keep repeaters away from their networks because they created interference and raised the noise floor, but now repeater technology is much more surgical and communicates back with the network. “It’s come a long way,” Higgins said.

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What makes FWA different this time around? People who were building fixed wireless access systems before were building it for a single purpose—to deliver fixed services. “Here, we have a multi-purpose network, so whether it’s the 5G mobile devices or it’s 5G Home devices, they all ride off the exact same technology and the same network. That’s the biggest difference,” he said.