All the major U.S. carriers have launched some flavor of 5G at this point, but when it comes to insights about actual consumer experiences on 5G networks, Verizon EVP Ronan Dunne says the carrier has a 12-to-15-month lead on the competition.
Verizon first launched its fixed millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G Home internet service in four markets last October, followed by a mobile mmWave 5G launch in Chicago and Minneapolis in early April. The carrier’s mobile 5G service is currently available in select parts of nine cities, with plans to expand to 30 by the end of the year.
Dunne, group CEO of Verizon Consumer, speaking Wednesday in Boston at Oppenheimer’s 22nd Annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference, indicated Verizon has an advantage from the real-world learnings from its mmWave 5G deployments, first in the home, and more recently on the streets.
It’s those live consumer insights that drive network optimization, Dunne said.
Verizon is now releasing software updates for its next-generation network on a weekly basis, he noted, and seeing consistent progress and uplifts in performance, as well as the number of devices per node.
Since launching 5G in Chicago, Dunne said Verizon has more than doubled its number of sites on air in the city and doubled the coverage area.
“We have consumer customers in that market [Chicago], Minneapolis, Indianapolis, all of those, who are already enjoying the benefit of 5G,” he said.
This contrasts to rival AT&T who was first to launch mobile mmWave 5G late last year, with deployments in parts of 21 cities so far, but currently only offers 5G service to business customers – something Dunne alluded to in his comments.
“There are no consumers on that network because they haven’t yet worked out the experience,” he said.
“In that regard [consumer insights], not just our engineering and IP…but insight into the consumer experience that actually drives the optimization of the network, I think we’re 12-15 months ahead of pretty much anybody else,” said Dunne. “And when it comes to mmWave perhaps even further.”
He also pointed to Verizon’s 4G investments and engineering decisions over the last 3-4 years, which Dunne called 5G-enabling. The team’s consistent strategy with an eye of 5G informed what 4G spectrum Verizon purchased and the approach Verizon took to network densification.
“So we actually arrive at the 5G era with a network grid in urban areas that is closer to what you need for 5G millimeter wave than any other carrier because made those decisions 3-4 years ago,” said Dunne, adding that the smooth path means Verizon can deploy 5G faster than would otherwise be the case.
‘Not all 5G is created equal’
Verizon’s consumer group chief also made a point of differentiating between 5G that uses high-band millimeter wave spectrum and the kind using low- or mid-band frequencies, saying “not all 5G is created equal.”
Dunne reiterated that next-gen use cases and massive capacity enabled by mmWave is primed for dense urban environments. He said that Verizon’s network carries a “very large” amount of data in large, densely populated settings, noting that while less than half of Verizon customers are in these urban environments, substantially more than 50% of data traffic happens there.
“The way the 5G standards were written, the more bandwidth you have…the more features and capabilities of 5G that you can enable,” noted Dunne. “We want to have both a coverage strategy and a capability strategy.”
“When it comes to the ability to use 5G as a significant capacity enhancement, there’s more of an opportunity to leverage that in the urban areas,” he added.
While executives at competitor T-Mobile, have taken jabs at Verizon for its mmWave 5G focus, Dunne said Verizon will deploy a nationwide 5G offering and indicated lower-band flavors of 5G will be more akin to advanced 4G services.
T-Mobile is leveraging its low-band 600 MHz spectrum for 5G, while hoping to merge with Sprint and get ahold of a large amount of 2.5 GHz spectrum, with the promise of broad nationwide 5G coverage next year.
Speed tests on live carrier networks have shown mmWave 5G can deliver download speeds of 1-2 Gbps, with 5G using lower bands capable of delivering more consistent coverage, but speeds in the low to mid-100s of Mbps.
“The lower down the spectrum tiers you go, that will approximate to a good 4G service,” said Dunne. “[Verizon] have a very good 4G LTE service in parts of the U.S. where some of our competitors don’t. If somebody else is rushing to bring out 5G nationwide, it may be because they don’t actually have credible 4G LTE coverage in those areas to start with.”
According to Dunne, Verizon plans to have nationwide 5G coverage, but will also have mmWave 5G in most places that large amounts of data are used. Verizon has previously said it intends to use a multi-band strategy for 5G. Executives have pointed to dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) as a way to dynamically allocate some of Verizon’s current 4G LTE spectrum assets for 5G, which could come into play next year.