Verizon boosts LTE speeds in Philly via CBRS spectrum

Verizon spent $1.9 billion for priority access licenses (PALs) in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) auction last summer, and it’s already putting the spectrum to good use. Verizon acquired 557 PALs of the 3.5 GHz mid-band spectrum in 157 counties.

RootMetrics/IHS Markit says that it conducted tests in 125 cities in the second half of 2020 and found that Verizon was using CBRS spectrum in 70 metros. Meanwhile, RootMetrics said its testing has not observed CBRS on the networks of either AT&T or T-Mobile to date. AT&T did not win any PALs, and T-Mobile only spent $5.58 million for eight PALs in six counties. But these carriers could use the general authorized access (GAA) portion of CBRS if they wanted to.

RootMetrics also conducted some tests of Verizon’s use of CBRS on its LTE network, specifically in the city of Philadelphia. It found that during the second half of 2020, Verizon’s median download speed on CBRS of 135.1 Mbps was over twice as fast as its non-CBRS median download speed of 64.2 Mbps. Likewise, Verizon’s maximum download speed on CBRS of 692.1 Mbps was nearly 300 Mbps faster than its max speed of 404.9 Mbps without CBRS.

RootMetrics chart

RootMetrics showed Verizon using CBRS during about 3% of its download tests in the second half of 2020, an increase from just 0.03% in the first half of the year.
RELATED: Verizon’s CBRS 3.5 GHz deployments on the rise – RootMetrics

Verizon’s use of CBRS also added considerable bandwidth for the carrier in Philadelphia. Prior to its addition of CBRS spectrum, Verizon held 45 MHz of licensed spectrum for its LTE service, compared to 60 MHz for AT&T and 40 MHz for T-Mobile. However, the bandwidth playing field changed significantly with Verizon’s additional CBRS spectrum usage. RootMetrics’ testing showed that in 2H 2020, Verizon was able to increase its bandwidth from 45 MHz to up to 95 MHz for its LTE service in the city.

CBRS for LTE and 5G

CBRS spectrum can be used for both LTE and 5G networks. But in Philadelphia Verizon is just using CBRS for LTE.

Earlier this week, PCMag’s Sasha Segan reported that Verizon’s 4G network, when running on CBRS spectrum, provides better speeds that its 5G Nationwide network, which runs on low-band spectrum and uses dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS).

“Verizon is rolling out an enhancement to 4G that absolutely blows away its own ‘nationwide’ 5G,” wrote Segan.

In one location in Queens, New York, Segan recorded a CBRS 4G test topping at a speed of 815 Mbps. At that same location Verizon’s 5G Nationwide only hit 358 Mbps. Verizon's 5G Ultra WideBand, which uses millimeter wave spectrum had by far the best speeds at the Queens location, hitting 3.4 Gbps.

It’s a bit of a buzzkill for 5G, but 4G on CBRS may actually be better than Verizon’s 5G Nationwide.

Rakesh Mallela, senior RF and sales engineer at RootMetrics said, "It very well could be the case that a user can find better speeds on Verizon’s CBRS than on its 5G Nationwide network. The driver for this is the large increase in bandwidth that CBRS can provide. In Philadelphia, for instance, we saw CBRS add up to 50 MHz for Verizon, for a total bandwidth of 95 MHz. That additional bandwidth can potentially translate into speeds that eclipse what you might find on its lower-band 5G."

Why doesn’t Verizon use CBRS for 5G? Segan said it’s probably because current smartphones do not flexibly support 5G on CBRS, yet.