Verizon: 'Just over 50%' of our spectrum is being used for LTE

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Verizon said its network is 'performing great' following the launch of unlimited data.

Verizon once again said its network is living up to expectations following the carrier’s launch of unlimited-data plans. And it said it has plenty of spectrum and other assets to maintain that performance.

The nation’s largest carrier launched unlimited data in February in an effort to regain subscribers lost to T-Mobile and Sprint, who introduced similar offerings last August. The move marked a significant reversal for Verizon, which had long decried the wisdom of unlimited plans even as its rivals embraced them. 

T-Mobile CEO John Legere said last month that the increased traffic sparked by the new plans had slowed Verizon’s network speeds, however. Citing data from Ookla’s Speedtest app, Legere said Verizon’s network speeds were 14% slower in the weeks after it launched unlimited, while T-Mobile saw a 10% bump in speed.

Verizon CEO Matt Ellis didn’t directly refute that charge this morning, but he did say the network has been up to the task of unlimited.

“The network’s performing great,” Ellis told attendees at an investors conference. “It’s performing as we expected when we decided to launch unlimited.

“Today we’re running just over 50% of spectrum assets supporting the LTE network, so there’s a significant amount of spectrum assets we still have to deploy against the network,” he continued. Those assets include AWS-3 and refarmed airwaves, he said, and next year Verizon plans to start leveraging unlicensed spectrum for LTE use.

And Ellis emphasized that carriers can use other tools to increase capacity rather than just acquiring and deploying spectrum. Like its rivals, Verizon is leveraging new network architectures and technologies, and it continues to densify via small-cell rollouts. Those tools all are increasing capacity on Verizon’s LTE infrastructure, Ellis said, and are helping to lay the foundation for eventual 5G deployments.

Verizon’s network has long been a key differentiator, of course, but that weapon has become less potent as the network-performance gap between all four major U.S. wireless operators has narrowed in recent years. Verizon continues to charge a premium for access to its network, but its market share of lucrative postpaid phone customers has shrunk in recent quarters, as evidenced most recently by the loss of 289,000 postpaid phone users in the first quarter of 2017.

So network performance will be crucial if Verizon is to maintain its status as the top dog in wireless in the era of unlimited.

“Spectrum is one way that we can add capacity, but it’s not the only way,” Ellis noted. “We are more efficiently deploying the spectrum today than we were four, five years ago, when we launched LTE.”