Verizon: 5G not a replacement for LTE

Roger Gurnani Verizon
Roger Gurnani, EVP and chief information and technology architect at Verizon, speaks at the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG – Verizon might be forging its own path when it comes to 5G, but that doesn’t mean it’s leaving LTE in the dust. Far from it. According to Verizon executives attending Qualcomm’s 4G/5G Summit here, LTE still has a long life ahead.

“5G is not a replacement for LTE,” said Roger Gurnani, EVP and chief information and technology architect at Verizon, in a presentation here. 5G is a strategic overlay on top of LTE going forward, and “we believe LTE will be around for many years to come.”

The notion that 5G isn’t going to replace LTE is nothing new. It was a familiar refrain during the industry’s U.S.-centric CTIA Super Mobility 2016 trade show in Las Vegas last month, but it’s a message that apparently bears repeating. Operators that have invested billions in infrastructure don’t want to replace all that gear, yet they still have to invest in the next generation of technology in order to remain both relevant and competitive.

state of 5g panel
From far left: moderator Michael Thelander, president of Signals Research Group; Ed Chan of Verizon; SK’s
Sungho Jo; Attilio Somma of Telecom Italia; and Serge Willenegger of Qualcomm Technologies participated
in the State of 5G panel at the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit.

Ed Chan, SVP of network infrastructure planning at Verizon, echoed Gurnani's sentiments during a separate panel on the state of 5G. “LTE by itself is still going to have a pretty long life span,” he said.

Notably, however, Verizon isn’t waiting for the 3GPP standards process to happen before it moves on 5G. In fact, if anything, Verizon believes its early adopter mentality can help accelerate and contribute to the standards. But considering that thousands of companies have to be involved in the standards-setting process, “it’s going to be a long journey,” Chan noted.

Verizon isn’t waiting for that journey to end. Last year, the operator formed its 5G Technology Forum and struck a pact with SK Telecom, which also was represented here at the summit, to support their mutual interest in collaborating on 5G, as well as SDN/NFV and GiGA technologies. Last summer, Verizon presented its 5G radio specification, inviting others to get on board.

RELATED: Verizon claims first in completing 5G radio specification

“5G will open up new use cases and new opportunities for us,” Gurnani said. Verizon’s first use case is something it’s calling pervasive broadband, or fixed wireless.

“We see a tremendous opportunity” to get into households, schools, shopping centers and other venues, he added, to provide a pervasive broadband service. Beyond that, 5G has other applications that are low latency and mission-critical such as public safety and smart city applications, to name a few. “As we build out our 5G footprint, we’ll take advantage of those opportunities,” Gurnani said.

Verizon has been a long-time collaborator with Qualcomm, going back to the days of CDMA, a technology that Qualcomm pioneered and helped foster. LTE more or less replaced CDMA and its long-time rival GSM, creating a more harmonized global standard. Now Verizon continues to work with Qualcomm on technologies like LTE-Advanced, LTE-U, LAA and 5G. It’s also using LTE as a core technology to serve the Internet of Things via LTE-M and Narrowband IoT.

Like many of its counterparts, Verizon’s been busy with 5G trials, expanding field trials to several hundred base station units and a few thousand end points. It's also working with cities on smart city initiatives. Last month, it agreed to acquire Sensitivity Systems, a smart lighting system startup that leverages existing city infrastructure to retrofit lights with sensors and make them more economical and energy efficient.

Interestingly, Gurnani said Verizon’s network carries the same amount of traffic in one hour that it did in one week 10 years ago – and every year it’s adding more capacity than the previous year, a trend it expects will continue.