Verizon EVP and CTO Kyle Malady couldn’t talk about C-band spectrum during the Wells Fargo TMT Summit 2020 on Tuesday, but he was able to share a few details about some other mid-band spectrum: the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band.
The C-band was off limits due to the quiet period associated with the C-band auction, which starts next Tuesday. Verizon is expected to “go big” during that auction, as it did in the CBRS auction of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) that ended in August. Verizon spent the most of any bidders, spending more than $1.89 billion to acquire 557 PALs in 157 counties.
Malady said the folks at Verizon are “very happy” with the CBRS licenses they acquired, which can be used along with the unlicensed General Authorized Access (GAA) CBRS spectrum. Thus far, a lot of Verizon’s deployments with CBRS have been outside.
“It is a mix. I think a lot of folks thought it was just for indoor,” he said. “We’ve deployed it already and it’s mostly outdoor” in a few thousand nodes.
The CBRS spectrum also is well-suited for urban areas and places where there might be capacity constraints. “It’s easy to add it in, a lot of devices already support it, so for us, it’s an easy way to add some capacity to places that we need to,” he said. “You’ll see it mostly on small cells as we deploy it but you’ll also see it on macros” in places that are more densely populated.
As expected, CBRS will be useful for adding capacity at stadiums, arenas and live concert venues, which can be both indoors and outside. “We see it as multi-purpose spectrum,” to add to the portfolio and use in areas with capacity constraints.
He also talked about Verizon’s use of millimeter wave (mmWave) and the fact that its poor propagation characteristics are well-known – signals don’t travel far or through materials like Low E glass and brick, although efforts are being made to improve its performance.
Verizon has been deploying mmWave in dense urban areas, which are where people are not congregating as much during the pandemic.
“We don’t think business goes back to exactly the same way it was before,” but people eventually will return back to urban areas, stadiums and concert venues, so it continues to build in those areas.
Improvements for Home internet
While Verizon is using dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) for national 5G coverage, its fixed wireless access (FWA) Home service uses the mmWave spectrum, which it calls the Ultra Wideband (UW) service. Verizon for several years now has been working on perfecting the customer premises equipment (CPE) for that service, which it expects to eventually reach 30 million homes.
According to Malady, the team has been “maniacally focused” on the self set-up for the Home FWA product because that’s how it can differentiate in the space, where it competes with cable and other broadband providers. It’s a similar model to buying a cell phone, he said, where the consumer goes online, buys the CPE and it shows up at their door. Now, close to 70% of customers can install it on their own, and the majority can set it up within 40 minutes.
They’re already working on the fourth-generation design for more cost reduction and better set-up time to achieve a success rate of 80% for self-install. “It takes the network and the CPE to dance together, and so we focus on both sides,” he said.
When it comes to Mobile Edge Compute (MEC), Verizon and AWS on Tuesday announced Las Vegas as their eighth market, with plans to add two more markets before the end of the year.
“We see a lot of traction in this space,” he said, both on the enterprise and consumer sides. People who run factories are talking about making them run smarter with the lower latency and real-time decision making that can happen with 5G. On the consumer side, the gaming community is especially interested because 5G and MEC leads to a better experience.
He was careful not to make too many predictions about how 5G is going to be used, preferring to let the “smart people” out there find ways to use it. “We build a platform with these great capabilities, and then people will figure out how to utilize them to benefit their applications” or their firm.
Long-time Qualcomm partnership
Qualcomm has been a big believer in Verizon’s Ultra Wideband/mmWave strategy. During the first day of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit 2020 on Tuesday, Verizon’s Chief Product Development Officer Nicola Palmer reiterated that Verizon will be in 60 cities with Ultra Wideband by the end of 2020. Despite the pandemic, Verizon increased its capex this year to keep building on its strategy.
The standalone (SA) core is coming next year to enable advanced network slicing and use the network in a different way than was capable in a 4G world. It’s getting 4 Gbps on its network that’s already deployed and 5 Gbps in the lab, she noted.
Verizon also has deals with sports teams, including the NFL, and it has showcased multi-view cameras where five angles of a game at once can be shown in HD quality on a mobile device.
“The massive capabilities of 5G and all these wired stadiums up that we have with millimeter wave allows just totally new viewing experiences in stadium or at home in an augmented fashion,” she said. “I’m really excited about these partnerships that we’ve developed, the work that we’re doing in our labs and it’s starting to really bear fruit. I think what we’ll see in 2021 and beyond is these solutions starting to hit consumers, hit businesses and solving their problems… and the scale will begin next year.”