Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is advancing its 5G rollout on multiple fronts. The company has placed its 5G bet on leveraging its extensive high-band millimeter wave spectrum.
Since its early cellular days, VZW has aggregated 2,661 MHz of spectrum on a national population weighted average basis. These collective holdings come from FCC spectrum auction wins, acquisitions of spectrum and companies with spectrum licenses, and spectrum swaps with other mobile network operators.
High-band millimeter wave frequencies make up 91 percent of this spectrum motherlode. Clearly, VZW is betting its 5G success on mmW.
“The magic is in the air interface,” Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s Vice President of Technology told Inside Towers in an exclusive interview. “We focus on the 5G air interface and utilize the stability of the 4G Core.”
Its flagship 5G Ultrawideband is VZW’s capacity play. 5G UWB operates on 28 and 39 GHz mmW frequencies. 5G UWB is designed to provide users with low latency, high-speed connections over short distances. In this regard, 5G UWB is ideal for dense urban environments and high traffic venues such as stadiums, arenas, and airports. Density means installing a lot of small cells, however.
“We don’t disclose the number of nodes,” Hemmer stated. “But this year alone we will be installing five times the number of small cells as we did last year, even with COVID-19.” Hemmer’s comment refers to the relative rapid pace of VZW’s small cell deployments rather than an actual number of small cells.
From 30 cities in 2019, VZW is adding another 24-25 markets in 2020 while densifying markets already in service.
To date, the company has activated 5G UWB in 55 cities around the country, mainly in downtown core areas and along busy corridors that connect to populated suburbs. In addition, the company has deployed 5G UWB in 24 stadiums and arenas, and six airports. VZW plans to have 60 cities in service by the end of the year.
5G Nationwide is VZW’s coverage play. With 5G Nationwide, VZW extends 5G service to over 200 million people in 1,800 cities and towns across the country.
5G Nationwide operates on widely available low-band 850 MHz frequency. VZW uses mid-band 1900 MHz and AWS spectrum to fill in 850 MHz coverage gaps.
Neither 5G UWB nor 5G Nationwide operates on 5G Standalone Alone architecture. Instead, VZW is using dynamic spectrum sharing software from Ericsson and Nokia to deliver 5G over existing 4G LTE frequencies.
Hemmer explained, “We are driving a lot of value in the mid-band coverage layer using DSS to launch 5G over the existing 4G LTE network. In fact, in some situations, 5G on our 4G LTE platform has tested faster than other carriers’ 5G network.”
“We’re building [5G] on the foundation of a superior 4G LTE network, so spectrum that we already have is important,” she added.
Both 5G platforms are currently using 4G core. “We expect to move to 5G Standalone by late 2021,” Hemmer confirmed.
5G Nationwide deployments are on existing tower and rooftop sites while 5G UWB small cells are installed on “street furniture.” VZW uses contractors to perform the actual installations. These installation companies are recruited from a roster of approved contractors through VZW’s normal procurement and contracting process.
5G Nationwide deployments are well underway with DSS from established equipment vendors, Ericsson, and Nokia. Hemmer says Samsung will follow with equipment supply for 5G UWB and 4G LTE as well.
VZW is working with many partners to co-develop applications that can take advantage of 5G’s speed and capacity.
Hemmer explained that the company has five 5G development labs in the U.S. where they are testing functions such as augmented reality, gaming, enhanced fan experience at major sporting events and mobile edge computing. “We’re working in partnership with Amazon Web Services on MEC and we do a lot with American Tower.”
VZW’s 5G Labs are in Cambridge, MA, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Jose, CA, along with a new international site in London, UK.
By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor