Verizon's Tami Erwin says what she really thinks about the competition

Speaking at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit this week, Verizon Business CEO Tami Erwin was more candid in answering some questions than she typically has been in the past. Perhaps it’s because she has short-timer’s syndrome, having announced earlier this week that she will leave Verizon at the end of this year after a stellar 35-year career.

Talking about how Verizon Business competes against T-Mobile and AT&T, Erwin noted that three years ago Verizon reoriented and instead of separating its business into wireline and wireless, it separates it into the consumer business and the B-to-B business. “We’ve been able to be very thoughtful and clear about what customer requirements are,” she said.

In terms of the competition she said, “T-Mobile has continued to say “This is the year I’m going to take share from you. I’m going to give away free pricing in states. I’m going to go to $10 pricing.”

In rebuttal, Erwin said, “I own 44% market share today in B-to-B. And every quarter I grow that. In fact, the last four consecutive quarters, we’ve increased our gross adds every single quarter.”

This growth comes in spite of the fact that AT&T has its FirstNet network, picking up lots of business from first responders.

Regarding AT&T, Erwin said, “AT&T has said, ‘I’ve launched a big FirstNet network.’ They’ve opened it up to anybody and everybody. It’s not a network for first responders. It’s open to anybody and everybody.”

“I always respect the competitive threat,” she added. “But I spend way more time on 'What does the customer need?'”

Fixed wireless

She also talked about competition from cable broadband. 

She said Verizon Business has sometimes had to hire cable companies to provide a wired SD-WAN circuit for enterprises. “So, if I want to deploy an SD-WAN, I need to go to the cable guys and buy their broadband. And it takes 10 weeks to be deployed. And they’re going to dig up the parking lot of the Walgreens location. That’s too slow for customer deployment.”

She said in Verizon’s new 5G world with its capability to provide fixed wireless access (FWA), “I can drop an antenna on the top of the roof of Walgreens, and I can deploy commercial-grade broadband that I measure, monitor and control. And it’s there in 24 hours.”

She added, “I’m delighted that I now have the ability to compete outside of my footprint. I’ve always had great fiber capabilities up and down the Eastern seaboard. But now, I have the ability to compete more directly across the nation.”

Of Verizon’s FWA customers today, she said half come from the consumer side and half come from her business side of the house. About 80% of the business FWA customers are using Verizon’s broadband as a primary use case, not as a secondary backup. She said many of those primary use cases are coming from customers that cable can’t compete for because they’re out of its footprint.

Verizon has targeted 1 million business customers for FWA. But Erwin said, “We forecasted that number before we really got momentum. I think there’s upside to that number.”

She noted that Verizon launched its C-band commercially in February with 100 million PoPs covered, and it now has 113 million PoPs with plans to achieve 175 million by end of the year.

She said the faster C-band is rolled out, “the faster I’ll write business on fixed wireless access.”

Private wireless

Erwin said Verizon Business is seeing big demand for private wireless networks because enterprises like the control these networks give them.

“Everyone in the world thinks they can participate in building out private networks,” she said. “AWS has announced ‘yeah, we’ll build you a private network on CBRS spectrum.’ Listen, I’ll build you a private network on CBRS spectrum too. I’ve got a Celona product that allows me to do that today. For small businesses that want to try it, for small applications, great, try it and use it. But I can also build big, complex private networks.” 

Dish has indicated that it sees opportunity building private wireless networks once it has its new greenfield 5G network up and running, nationwide.

Erwin said, “Charlie [Ergen] has been talking about building a network for as long as I’ve been in this business. It’s not just about the network. It’s about building out a strong distribution. I don’t spend an ounce of timing worrying about Dish.”