Verizon boosts LTE network capacity using AWS spectrum in dozens of markets

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has been deploying its AWS spectrum in dozens of major markets across the country  to boost capacity for its LTE network. In some markets the company is tripling the amount of spectrum dedicated to LTE service.

According to GigaOM, in major cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York City,  Seattle and Washington, D.C, Verizon has tripled its LTE capacity, while in downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles it increased capacity by 150 percent. The upgrades first started in October.

That extra capacity not only means faster speeds but the ability to add more connections, which Verizon is trying to do as quickly as possible to move more traffic onto its more efficient LTE network. Verizon now claim that 66 percent of all of its mobile data traffic goes over LTE, up from the 64 percent the company revealed in October.  

Verizon Wireless Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer told GigaOM that in every major city east of the Mississippi and in several western markets, Verizon is using full 40 MHz of spectrum, twice as big as the 20 MHz network it has deployed on its 700 MHz Upper C Block spectrum for its macro LTE deployment, which now covers 303 million POPs. The GigaOM report notes that in some markets Verizon does not have 40 MHz of spectrum for LTE, or 20x20 MHz channels. For example, in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Verizon is using 30 MHz of spectrum.

Those network configurations could deliver peak speeds of up to 100 Mbps to 150 Mbps, though real-world speeds will likely be much slower as the networks get more fully loaded. Palmer said Verizon is on track to hit her previously stated goal of having 5,000 AWS sites on air by year-end, with an additional 5,000 sites in various stages of completion.

Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo said in an investor conference in November that in Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, Verizon is experiencing some capacity issues. However, he said the company is mitigating the problems through the deployment of small cells, Distributed Antenna Systems and its AWS spectrum.

"The amount of consumption of video took us a little bit by surprise," he said. However, now that Verizon's LTE coverage is complete, Shammo said "all of my effort is around capacity." As each week goes by, the issues get smaller and will "dissipate" by year-end, he said.

"This is the data network," Palmer said. "It's carrying a lot of data, and it's carrying it well." However, she said Verizon expects data traffic to grow by a factor of six or seven times in the next few years, forcing Verizon to acquire more spectrum.

Verizon said devices that can take advantage of the enhanced AWS LTE network include Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)'s iPhone 5s and 5c, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Motorola Droid Maxx, Mini and Ultra, and several LTE modems. Verizon will also be sending out over-the-air software updates to activate the AWS radios in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and other Android devices soon, the report said. Palmer also told GigaOM that around 15 percent of Verizon's smartphone base can access LTE service on AWS spectrum, but by the end of the year that number should be 20 percent, and that going forward nearly every new smartphone Verizon sells will have AWS capabilities.

Other carriers are also planning to take advantage of wider spectrum channels in the future. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) expects to have at least 10x10 MHz LTE in 40 out of the top 50 markets by year-end and plans to start deploying 20x20 MHz LTE widely next year. T-Mobile now has LTE service in 94 of the top 100 markets and plans to eventually cover 90 percent of the top 25 markets with 20x20 MHz LTE.

Sprint's (NYSE:S) forthcoming tri-mode LTE service, which it has dubbed "Sprint Spark," will start off using only 20 MHz of spectrum, but Sprint expects to add to that in the future using its 2.5 GHz spectrum it acquired from Clearwire. Using carrier aggregation, Sprint said it could have 60 MHz of spectrum for LTE in some markets using that spectrum.  

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is starting to refarm its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum for LTE service.  Using carrier aggregation,the company could use those airwaves and its 2.3 GHZ WCS spectrum to increase capacity on its network.   

Palmer's disclosures come as Verizon celebrates the three-year anniversary of its LTE network. Verizon noted in a blog post that next year "customers will be able to experience Voice over LTE (VoLTE), a 4G LTE technology that can enable a host of advanced services, including HD Voice and video chat. 4G LTE roaming for Verizon Wireless customers outside the U.S. will also begin in select countries."

Verizon spokeswoman Debi Lewis told FierceWireless that Verizon currently has devices in the market that are VoLTE-capable but not VoLTE-enabled via a software update. She declined to say which models fit that description.

"Our network team is testing VoLTE on devices on our commercial network in anticipation of a 2014 rollout," she said. "No change here. VoLTE capable doesn't mean enabled or activated." Verizon is expected to launch VoLTE service in the first half of 2014.

For more:
- see this GigaOM article
- see this Verizon post

Related Articles:
Verizon's Shammo: LTE capacity issues will be worked out by year-end
Verizon's net adds below expectations, T-Mobile could be to blame
Verizon starts deploying LTE in its AWS spectrum
Tolaga: AWS spectrum dominant band for LTE in Americas
Verizon to start refarming PCS spectrum for LTE in 2015
Verizon taps Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson for LTE small cells