They’re not the first and likely not the last, but Verizon’s recent applications with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) show it’s advancing on the C-band front – as well as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).
Verizon’s latest submissions seek authorization to conduct C-band tests in the top Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) across the United States. It also submitted prior applications for tests in portions of the San Francisco and Miami markets. The spectrum sought under the special temporary authority (STA) are part of the recently auctioned 3.7-3.89 GHz that will be part of Verizon’s post-clearing assignments.
Satellite companies that have been using the spectrum need to move to the upper part of the C-band under FCC rules. That process will take months to clear the first tranche, which will become available to wireless carriers later this year. The next batch becomes available at the end of 2023, putting T-Mobile at a significant time-to-market advantage over the two biggest C-band bidders, Verizon and AT&T, in the 5G mid-band spectrum arena.
Verizon has been trying to make up for lost time, so to speak, by getting as much C-band ready to go as possible when the time arrives for the spectrum to be available. The tests under STAs are part of that process.
Separately, Verizon is asking for FCC authorization to conduct 5G tests using pre-commercial equipment in the CBRS (3.5 GHz) band in parts of rural South Dakota. The 4G LTE version of CBRS already is deployed and well established throughout the U.S., but the 5G version for CBRS is newer. For example, Federated Wireless told Fierce that it expects 5G will be commercially deployed on CBRS in the fourth quarter of this year.
Verizon’s application notes that some tests will run solely on base stations and user equipment in CBRS spectrum, but some equipment includes 3GPP 5G base stations that may operate on 700 MHz, PCS and/or AWS spectrum, all of which would be constrained to Verizon’s legacy licensed spectrum.
This is where it gets a little more interesting. “Verizon and a mobile device partner company are planning to conduct testing with an aggregate of no more than ten mobile 5G prototype devices, to support the field trial testing,” according to the form. Verizon doesn’t identify the device partner. “Some of the tests… will include mobiles and base station with C-band transmitter that operate in carrier aggregation mode with CBRS band.”
The filing states that some tests are limited to 5G mobile devices supporting time division duplex 5G operation, with a 5G uplink in Band n48 (CBRS) and receive in the same band. Other tests involve mobile devices supporting inter-band carrier aggregation.
Cowen cites ‘one touch’ program
In a report for investors last week, analysts at Cowen Equity Research noted that most of Verizon’s C-band site build for 2021 will be focused on denser markets first for an “inside out” deployment strategy using vendors Ericsson and Samsung; Chief Engineering Officer Ed Chan said they hope to build beyond 7,000 to 8,000 sites in 2021.
“Interestingly, it seems CBRS equipment, despite being next to C-band, requires separate equipment, however, Mr. Chan noted that Verizon is utilizing a ‘one touch’ program (putting both CBRS and C-Band equipment up at the same time to save costs), though is not deploying CBRS everywhere and is limiting it to denser areas. As for potentially accelerating the clearance of Category B/C spectrum ahead of the YE23 deadline, Verizon is not overly optimistic, but will look for opportunity if it’s there.”
Regarding the “T-Mobile debate” on the quality of C-band, “Verizon again stressed the power limitation rules of 2.5 GHz. Mr. Chan also stressed that network performance is not based purely on spectrum, as Verizon has had inferior spectrum in NYC, for example, but #1 performance,” Cowen wrote. “On future spectrum, Verizon remains optimistic that the government will find solutions for Auction 110 interference concerns, noting the pressing need and scarcity of 5G mid-band spectrum in the U.S.”