BARCELONA, Spain -- Verizon has made little secret of its plans to aggressively pursue 5G technologies and services well ahead of some of its competitors. And the carrier underscored the point with this week's acquisition of XO Communications' fiber-optic network business for $1.8 billion. Importantly, that acquisition will give Verizon access to additional spectrum it will use for its 5G tests.
XO operates networks in 40 major U.S. markets through 1.2 million fiber miles, and its intercity network covers 20,000 route miles connecting 85 cities. So the deal will enable the nation's largest mobile carrier to deepen its Ethernet penetration to serve its fixed-line customers, and it may be able to cut backhaul payments it makes to fiber providers outside its wireline markets as it densifies its cell network.
Under terms of the deal Verizon will also lease XO's LMDS spectrum with an option to buy it before the end of 2018. XO has 102 LMDS licenses in 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands. The carrier said that XO's spectrum covers bands it can use to conduct 5G testing.
"We feel (XO's spectrum) allows us today to make some of the (5G) trials that we're doing a little more robust," said Adam Koeppe, Verizon's vice president of network technology and planning, during a FierceWireless panel on 5G Tuesday. "We've got high-band, low-band, everything in between."
Koeppe also said the carrier won't hesitate to start deploying 5G when it is prepared to do so, regardless of whether the industry has coalesced behind any specific group of standards.
"We see enough innovation today that's occurring that's going to turn into 5G to act now, and to act fast," Koeppe said. "Personally, we don't want to wait for 2020, or even 2018. And we don't think we need to…. We don't think we're going out on some crazy limb here."
Verizon's 5G ambitions are nothing new, of course: The nation's largest carrier has vowed to be the first U.S. operator to roll out 5G, and this week it claimed field tests using Ericsson radio prototypes saw speeds of more than 10 Gbps.
However, other operators have cautioned that the race to 5G could create network fragmentation.
"I think the danger in 5G is that if we don't come together and agree on a standard, that can create fragmentation," said Tom Keathley, AT&T's senior vice president of network architecture and design, during the luncheon. "To do a deployment in 2018, that has to be done on 2017 and late 2016 standards. Will that be compliant with a standard in 2018?"
It might be, said Keathley, or it could be made compliant through software upgrades. But those deployments simply may not ever comply with any eventual standard, potentially leading to fragmentation and interoperability problems.
The discussion underscores the complexities carriers must face as they begin to advance their networks beyond 4G and toward 5G, which has yet to be clearly defined. 5G standards will address a range of technologies that will be used to connect a huge gamut of devices, from industrial machines to multimedia consumer devices. While much of the talk at MWC this year centers on 5G, carriers and their other partners still have many hurdles to overcome before 5G services will be deployed commercially in any meaningful form.
- see this FierceTelecom story
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