Verizon aims to deploy small cells in 3.5 GHz when practical

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The 3.5 GHz ecosystem is still being set up, but Verizon plans to use 3.5 GHz spectrum as soon as practically possible.

Verizon’s intent to deploy small cells is no secret, so its interest in deploying small cells—both low power and high power—using the 3.5 GHz/Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band shouldn’t come as any big surprise.

A member of the CBRS Alliance, which advocates for LTE-based solutions in the CBRS bands, Verizon plans to use 3.5 GHz spectrum “as soon as practically possible,” according to Adam Koeppe, vice president of Network Technology Planning for Verizon.

Companies in the CBRS Alliance—including Google-affiliated Access Technologies, which is part of Alphabet, as well as Federated Wireless, Intel, Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson and Ruckus Wireless—have been working hard to establish the framework to make the 3.5 GHz band suitable for sharing under the FCC’s directive. The FCC finalized rules for the band last April, making 150 MHz available for mobile broadband and other commercial uses.

“We have already conducted infrastructure testing,” Koeppe told FierceWirelessTech in response to emailed questions. “The commercial timelines are dictated by the availability of the spectrum access server (SAS), commercial-grade network equipment, and capable devices. We expect this to occur in early 2018.”

As for what Verizon plans to do with the 3.5 GHz spectrum, he said it intends to deploy two types of base stations utilizing low-power small cells and high-power small cells. Low-power small cells are suitable for indoor applications, including enterprises, hotels, airports, convention centers and stadiums, while the high-power small cells are suitable for outdoor applications such as large campuses, metro areas, downtown areas and suburban areas.

Prior to the FCC’s vote last year, wireless operators weren’t entirely on board with the sharing principles outlined for the 3.5 GHz band in the U.S., but they’ve since mostly come around, and now all four major U.S. carriers are members of the CBRS Alliance.

RELATED: Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint join AT&T in eyeing LTE deployments in 3.5 GHz CBRS band

Asked if Verizon has any concerns about sharing spectrum in the band, Koeppe said a key requirement to make 3.5 GHz successful is the commercialization of the spectrum access server (and certification of same by the FCC), developed with fair rules and good coexistence mechanisms, thus enabling the use of 3.5 GHz spectrum by multiple operators and different types of small cells.

Verizon is actively working with multiple vendor partners and testing 3.5 GHz equipment this year in both lab and field tests, he said.

RELATED: AT&T continues quest to test at 3.5 GHz

Rival AT&T has also been busy conducting tests in the 3.5 GHz band and is interested in doing more experiments in other bands, including the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, where the propagation characteristics are similar to those of the 3.5 GHz band and the 3.55-4.2 GHz range.

The 3.5 GHz range is being considered in other regions of the world for 5G, increasing its chances for providing spectrum for international harmony, but the sharing regime set up in the U.S. is unique and other nations are likely watching to see how it all works out.

RELATED: Google-led SAS ready to test with 3.5 GHz hardware vendors for CBRS band

Evangelists in the CBRS Alliance are encouraged that for the first time, spectrum will be made available to entities other than entrenched wireless operators, enabling different technologies and applications to compete in the band, living up to its moniker as the "innovation band."

Verizon has also been a longtime proponent of LTE-U technology, which enables LTE small cells to be introduced in unlicensed spectrum. The company plans to have an initial rollout of devices and equipment ready for that market this spring. Verizon formed the LTE-U Forum in 2014 with Alcatel-Lucent (now part of Nokia), Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung to develop specifications for implementing LTE-U to coexist with Wi-Fi and other technologies.