Thanks to some satellite companies that were financially motivated to clear out early, Verizon is turning on more C-band four months ahead of schedule.
It’s been a long time coming. Verizon spent more than $52 billion, including incentive payments and clearing costs, for C-band (3.7 GHz) licenses at auction in 2021. But concerns by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation industry delayed early deployments near airports.
Verizon was able to launch its first C-band spectrum in 46 partial economic areas (PEAs) in 2022 and over the past 18 months, it’s coordinated with the FAA and aviation so that as of July 1, 2023, all of Verizon’s sites are able to operate at full power without the prior restrictions around airports, according to David Wolff, director of Network Planning at Verizon.
However, it didn’t have access to all of the C-band spectrum it won at auction due to the timeline agreed upon for incumbent satellite operators to move out. As of today – with the satellite operators finalizing early incentive plans to move out ahead of the December 2023 deadline – Verizon has access to the total amount of C-band spectrum awarded at auction.
Currently, Verizon offers C-band to more than 222 million people in 359 markets and more than 40 million households have access to Verizon’s Home Internet fixed wireless access (FWA) 5G service.
Now, all of the licenses that it won at auction in 2021 are coming available, so it will have a minimum of 140 MHz of contiguous spectrum, which is important for the management of the rest of the spectrum, Wolff said.
“It just makes it that much more beneficial for our customers,” he told Fierce. “Depending on the market that you’re considering, we’re talking about more than doubling and even in some cases, tripling the bandwidths that we’re offering to our customers. That’s a tremendous amount of capacity.”
Specifically, Verizon now has access to a minimum of 140 megahertz of total spectrum in the contiguous U.S. and an average of 161 megahertz nationwide – and that’s bandwidth in every available market, or 405 markets in total. It also has access to up to 200 megahertz in 158 mostly rural markets covering nearly 40 million people.
Using the oft-cited analogy of lanes on a highway, that means the more lanes that are added, the more cars that can be accommodated. “More lanes mean less chance of congestion or running into traffic” for consumers on the network, he said.
Satellite players move out early
Of course, all of this was planned well in advance even though a lot of people have been expecting the December deadline for C-band clearance.
Last week, SES announced the FCC had validated its Phase II accelerated C-band clearing and relocation activities. SES, one of the largest satellite incumbents in the band, struck an agreement with Verizon last year to clear certain markets prior to the relocation deadline, earning SES up to an additional $170 million from Verizon.
Most markets are going to be able to take advantage of the early clearance immediately; some markets still need software updates but “in the days and weeks ahead, our customers are going to see the benefits of this,” Wolff said. Verizon's C-band RAN vendors are Ericsson and Samsung.
Why it matters
Some people on social media started reporting dramatic speed improvements on Verizon’s network late last week. Typically, T-Mobile wins all kinds of awards for fastest 5G speeds, but in a report last week, Root Metrics noted that AT&T and Verizon are showing speed gains as their C-band deployments continue.
For Verizon, they called out its improvement in Augusta, Georgia, as particularly impressive, with the carrier’s 5G median download speed jumping from 55.0 Mbps in the second half of 2022 to 249.4 Mbps in the first half of 2023.
No doubt, the four-month jumpstart on the remainder of the C-band is important to Verizon. Wolff said it’s “tremendously beneficial,” but it doesn’t change how Verizon’s designing the network because they had been planning on this for quite some time.
What it does change are the speeds that people will see this fall when they’re attending high school sporting events, NFL games, concerts, holiday gatherings and all the season has to offer.
The more spectrum that gets added to the network, the more data can run across it and the faster people can get the information they’re looking for. “Our customers are going to have consistently faster speeds in more places,” he said.