Verizon announced it will launch 5G service in New York City just a day after rival T-Mobile turned up the volume on its campaign to smear Big Red on its lack of 5G coverage maps, rolling out a big billboard in New York’s Times Square and posting signs at bus stops and LinkNYC kiosks.
The physical signs did not come up during a conversation with Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg at the Goldman Sachs 28th Annual Communacopia Conference in New York today, but he was asked about Verizon’s 5G strategy, including when it comes to spectrum. T-Mobile has been especially critical of Verizon’s millimeter wave strategy for 5G, even though it, itself, is using millimeter wave in its initial markets.
Verizon said it will launch 5G in parts of New York City—uptown, downtown, midtown, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens—on September 26, with the aim of being in 30 5G cities by the end of the year.
With the New York launch, Verizon will have launched 5G in 11 cities, and while the initial reviews have been mixed—very high speeds, but limited initial coverage—Verizon is pleased with what it’s seeing, according to Vestberg. Early 5G mobility launches produced speeds of 600 Mbps and 700 Mbps, and that’s since gone up to 1 Gbps, and even 2 Gbps.
“There’s a lot more to be brought out of it,” Vestberg said. “For us, it’s actually meeting our expectations, and we are gradually increasing our footprint every day. We’re so early in the cycle. We were first in the world with 5G Home, we were first with 5G smartphones. Of course, we are in the beginning of it and seeing the evolution of the technology is actually very encouraging.”
He didn’t say when 5G will be nationwide. “We want to give the best experience all the time,” he said, noting third-party tests ranking Verizon as No. 1 in network performance.
Millimeter wave is powerful in 5G, but ultimately, any spectrum could host 5G in the future. “We’re going to turn it on when our customers are ready for it and the market has the ecosystem for it,” without saying exactly when and how, keeping that to themselves, he said. “We’re going to turn it on when it’s the right time in the market” and there’s a significant improvement over 4G.
Verizon has by far the most millimeter wave spectrum, but T-Mobile is using millimeter wave along with its 600 MHz spectrum, and hopes to leverage Sprint’s mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum for better 5G coverage. Interestingly, Sprint, whose merger with T-Mobile is being contested by 18 states at last count, has received decent reviews for its ability to offer a 5G signal in markets where it’s launched, including New York.
Asked about Verizon’s spectrum strategy, Vestberg said it’s in a quiet period ahead of the next millimeter wave auction later this year, but “I don’t start with spectrum. I start with the data growth that I have in the network,” and consider different solutions for it. One is adding spectrum, another is adding new software. A third option is densifying the network, which Verizon did when it decided not to participate in the AWS auctions and turned to densification instead.
One of the most important features in Release 16 of 5G New Radio (NR) is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS). “I would say the Verizon engineers are fantastic on deciding which is the best one to do it,” and “we have all the spectrum we need to do the national coverage and do the millimeter wave,” so there’s no doubt about that, Vestberg said. C-Band is an “interesting spectrum,” but it’s not up for grabs at the moment.
Different 5G strategies
T-Mobile also launched its initial 5G markets with millimeter wave—using 39 GHz in Las Vegas and 28 GHz in New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, and Los Angeles, publishing maps to show where there’s a 5G signal.
Earlier this week, when T-Mobile executives appeared at the same Goldman Sachs conference, CTO Neville Ray emphasized how T-Mobile has evened the scales with Verizon and AT&T in LTE coverage. With the Sprint merger, it could leapfrog the other two, offering a 5G network that includes all three sections of the spectrum “layer cake,” with low, mid and high bands.
Ray said he wants “those guys to be chasing my network,” and his team and its execution going forward.
In a blog post on Wednesday, he took it up another notch, saying: “Verizon doesn’t have the vision OR the resources to match New T-Mobile’s potential, but you’d never know that watching their ads. They’re hiding behind more ‘launches’ of 5G (where? They won’t tell you, but you’ll pay more for it), hiding behind claims of ‘leadership’ and technical prowess that just aren’t true any longer, hiding behind an unprecedented ad blitz, and literally hiding 5G from their customers by refusing to show them exactly where it’s deployed. It’s time Big Red had a wake-up call.”
If the transaction with Sprint does not go through, T-Mobile of course will need to find mid-band spectrum somewhere else, and it has been active in regulatory proceedings trying to ascertain C-Band and other spectrum.