Apple introduced its latest iPhone models with 5G across major U.S. carriers, but it gave particular attention to Verizon during its launch event from the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday.
Billed as the “Hi, Speed” event, Apple’s extravaganza featured special guest Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, who joined Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage. In addition to doubling down on its 5G Ultra Wideband network, Verizon launched its 5G Nationwide network, reaching more than 200 million people across 1,800 cities and towns. According to Vestberg, 5G just “got real.”
The 5G Nationwide service is enabled by Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), a technology defined by 3GPP that Verizon promised to launch before year’s end. Timing it with the launch of the 5G iPhone was no accident; the carrier couldn’t very well market a 5G iPhone with the minimalist coverage that its millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum provides.
When it first launched 5G in April 2019, Verizon very deliberately launched 5G using mmWave spectrum because it’s a game changer, with lightning fast speeds and tremendous capacity, said Heidi Hemmer, VP Technology at Verizon. But the coverage layer is important as well, leading to DSS, which uses the same spectrum for both 4G LTE and 5G.
“It’s always been our intention to add that coverage layer along with the Ultra Wideband experience,” she told Fierce, noting that third-party firms still rank the performance of Verizon’s 4G LTE network highly, sometimes finding it to be faster than a rival’s 5G service. “We have built that 5G nationwide network on top of the best 4G network.”
Verizon’s DSS-enabled Nationwide 5G speeds are more in line with 4G speeds, she acknowledged. For those customers with the latest iPhone, the device will pick up on the Ultra Wideband coverage where available; where it’s not, the phone will revert to coverage using DSS and when that’s not there, it will use 4G LTE.
Verizon also used the event to announce that its 5G Ultra Wideband is now deployed in more places. Customers in 55 cities can now access the speeds it provides, and by the end of 2020, Verizon’s Ultra Wideband will be in more than 60 cities. It also added 19 new locations to the list of stadiums and arenas where it offers Ultra Wideband, which is now up to 43.
While Verizon expanded its Ultra Wideband footprint, it also said it was introducing some new capabilities so that it’s even faster in places where it has the spectrum to support it. By combining eight separate channels of spectrum – using carrier aggregation that combines multiple channels for greater efficiency in data sessions – Verizon is able to offer peak speeds up to 4 Gbps. In some areas, it’s using two carrier aggregation, and that’s enabling it to offer better upload speeds.
As for which low-band spectrum Verizon is using for DSS, it’s usually 850 MHz, but in some markets where that’s not available, it will use PCS or AWS spectrum. For Ultra Wideband in a mmWave market, it’s going to be either 28 GHz or 39 GHz.
Verizon is using Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung as vendors for its DSS deployment, which required adding physical hardware as well as software.
Why so much Apple love?
Apple doesn’t usually call out specific carriers during its launch events, much less invite a carrier executive to join its CEO on stage. Verizon had been working with Apple for an unspecified amount of time before the big event, and it boils down to its ability to enable Apple and other partners to do the applications enabled by mmWave, according to Hemmer.
Gamers, for example, are able to experience their entertainment in ways that historically were only available through a tethered PC. In stadiums, fans can get closer to the action with up to seven camera angles on the field.
The attention to one specific carrier harkened back to the time when the first iPhone was unveiled and AT&T was the exclusive carrier for it. Back then, it proved so popular that AT&T’s network got crushed and it couldn’t immediately handle the increased traffic.
But out of the gate, Verizon will have the coverage and capacity to handle what comes its way, according to Hemmer. “We’ve made sure that we have the capacity required to be able to handle all the new iPhones coming on,” she said.
While it was a signature day for Verizon, one could view it as a glass half full and glass half empty scenario, according to Mark Lowenstein, managing director of Mobile Ecosystem.
“The iPhone 12 will sing when in a good mmWave coverage area, but we estimate that for the time being this will be in a very small fraction of places that people will be,” Lowenstein said. “If you were to think about everybody in the U.S. using their iPhone RIGHT NOW (not in Wi-Fi), about 1% of those sessions would get the best 5G speeds (1 GB or better).”
Lowenstein said he expects the capability of 5G in the Verizon DSS locations to be more of a 4G+ experience: better than most LTE situations, but not as good as T-Mobile in 2.5 GHz markets or areas where T-Mobile has combined 2.5 GHz and 600 MHz.
That was fast
Verizon and AT&T immediately announced their deals on the new iPhone 12, which starts at $699 or $799 depending on the model.
New and existing AT&T customers will be able to get the latest iPhone 12 for “zero dollars,” but there’s a list of qualifiers attached. For example, customers must buy the device on an AT&T installment plan and subscribe to an AT&T Unlimited plan.
Verizon also offers an iPhone 12 for free under certain circumstances when consumers switch to Verizon; existing customers can get an iPhone 12 for as little as $15 a month on a device payment plan with a select unlimited plan. No word yet on what T-Mobile is offering.