Samsung seeks to validate 5G gear, fixed business model in trials with Verizon

Samsung modem (Samsung)
Samsung's pre-commercial 5G customer modem that will be used in the Verizon 5G customer trials. Image: Samsung

Samsung Electronics America says it will be looking to gauge a number of things in its trials with Verizon as part of its deployment of 5G precommercial service to select customers.

First up, Samsung wants to validate the technology, something the company is confident it can do. It’s already worked in precustomer trials to see how millimeter-wave gear works at 28 GHz throughout the seasons, including during a snowstorm in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, last year during which the snow and rain did not degrade the service.

“I’m very comfortable that the technology will work,” Magnus Ojert, Networks Division vice president and general manager for Samsung Electronics America, told FierceWirelessTech. “I think what we’ll learn during the trial is how do you make the technology better, how do you make it more robust, how do you make it so it performs better in certain topographies.”

The second thing the Samsung team will be doing is making sure they understand how to mass deploy the product in a fast, cost-effective manner. It’s got to be cheaper than deploying an LTE macro site just due to the sheer number of millimeter-wave sites that will be required. “If this is too costly, then the business model breaks,” he said.

The third goal is to really understand the customer’s experience and simplify how they access fixed wireless. “We don’t want to require a truck roll,” he said. The idea is to be able to ship a unit to a building landlord, for example, and have the customer install it and be up and operating with minimal effort.

Samsung and Verizon 5G customer trials will begin in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington, D.C., with a fifth location in Michigan starting trials later in the second half of 2017. The locations represent varying terrain, neighborhood layouts and population density. Joint trials will incorporate Samsung’s precommercial 5G solution featuring a Customer Premise Equipment, window antenna as well as its 5G radio and core solutions. The Verizon service to pilot customers will include wireless internet access and Voice over IP calling.

Specifically, Samsung will be supplying its 5G Access Units to be deployed throughout a city’s business and residential neighborhoods; the units will link radio signals to a virtualized core network that is set up within Verizon’s data centers. Samsung’s next-generation core solution is software-driven and designed on a scalable platform to accommodate operator needs.

In precommercial testing, which began in December 2016, the 5G system demonstrated multi-gigabit throughputs at radio distances of up to 1,500 feet (500 meters) across each of the different environments selected for the customer trials. The Samsung 5G system is designed to be upgradable to support 3GPP standards for New Radio and Next-Generation Core, once available.

Samsung Electronics just announced the commercial readiness of its 5G RF Integrated Circuit, a key component in the production and commercialization of next-generation base station and other radio access products.

Verizon EVP and CFO Matt Ellis has said the company will move ahead with the commercial launch of 5G if it provides a great return for shareholders. Presumably, if the trials don’t pan out the way they’re expected, it’s highly unlikely Verizon would abandon the whole thing. More likely, it would consider the trials as a way of further establishing its leadership in 5G and then pivot to another strategy if things don’t pencil out.  

What’s not clear is what the whole value proposition is going to be beyond delivering fast broadband speed, because LTE currently provides good performance and the cities mentioned for the trials are not typically seen as terribly underserved, noted Sathya Atreyam, an analyst at IDC Research.

“I see this as a strategy by Verizon to seed the city infrastructure” with radio and packet core equipment, he told FierceWirelessTech. While Verizon might want to offer service to neighborhoods, 5G use cases include the Internet of Things and connected or self-driving cars.

What it could end up doing is, say, approaching enterprises and saying they have this network, why not offer a package that not only provides connectivity but also makes the business’ assets smarter by using the network gear that’s already in the neighborhood. Just speculating, he said, but “the current announcement could be a steppingstone toward something which allows Verizon to think outside the box.”