Verizon CEO on mmWave: Early days but engineering team good with it

Verizon 5G logo
Verizon acquired a lot of millimeter wave spectrum with the acquisition of Straight Path, and it's been doubling down on mmWave spectrum for 5G ever since. (Fierce Wireless)

Responding to an analyst’s question during Verizon’s first-quarter earnings call, CEO Hans Vestberg defended the company’s millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum strategy one day after T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray blasted its “spotty” and “unreliable” 5G coverage. Ray specifically cited mmWave’s poor propagation characteristics in his critique.  

“When it comes to the millimeter wave, as I’ve said before, that has lived up to our expectation on performance and again, we’re very early on in improving the software," Vestberg said.

"We all need to remind ourselves, this is not a coverage spectrum,” and the company will do what’s economical and sustainable, he said, adding, “but still, it’s very good, the ranges we can come up with, and of course the throughput and speeds are enormous. We’re very early on the journey and I think that no one else in the whole industry knows more than Verizon about it,” having been involved in it for at least two years. “It’s a good strategy.”

RELATED: T-Mobile says 5G mmWave deployments ‘will never materially scale’

Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) will be “the next step for us,” to meet the different use cases, which include mobility, the 5G Home and mobile edge compute cases, he said. “The engineering team feels good about it.”

DSS, which is part of 3GPP Release 15, allows operators to dynamically allocate some of their existing 4G LTE spectrum to 5G and use existing radios (as long as they are 5G NR-capable) to deliver 5G services by deploying a software upgrade.

RELATED: Marek’s Take: Dynamic spectrum sharing may change the 5G deployment game

Asked to talk specifically about how Verizon is thinking about millimeter wave, Vestberg said the company hasn’t changed its position on millimeter wave or how it will deploy it. 

“Remember, the majority of all the traffic is in the dense urban areas where we are now initially focusing,” and it’s getting a greater 5G experience for customers, while benefiting from the economics from having the best mmWave spectrum position there.

He did not reveal details about the timing of DSS next year, or which spectrum bands might be used with 5G NR to enable DSS for coverage. 

“When it comes to Dynamic Spectrum Sharing and which spectrum we’re going to use, et cetera, and when it will come into play, it will come into play next year. Right now, we’re in discussions,” he said, and over time, all of the spectrum—low, mid and high bands—likely will be exposed to DSS.

“The good thing, for being a leader like Verizon, we can impact on the ecosystem how this will be done and that’s where we are in our discussions” with the chipset and equipment manufacturers to have the best solution—also using the engineering skills of the Verizon team.

RELATED: Verizon’s 5G gets points for speed but knocks for coverage

Verizon launched its mobile 5G service, called 5G Ultra Wideband, on April 3, around the same time operators in South Korea made their commercial 5G debut. At the time, Verizon said its early 5G customers in Chicago and Minneapolis—where it’s using 28 GHz spectrum—could expect typical download speeds of 450 Mbps, with peak speeds of nearly 1 Gbps, and latency less than 30 milliseconds. 

But, as Craig Moffett, senior analyst at MoffettNathanson, said in a commentary today, the chorus of questions about millimeter wave spectrum is growing louder.

“To be sure, the questions about millimeter wave spectrum aren’t new,” Moffett wrote. “But the shortcomings of millimeter wave spectrum have become more and more evident in recent months. Our report on their Sacramento fixed wireless broadband market focused on just one part of the 5G story, but its main takeaway is applicable more broadly: even for mobility—or, perhaps, even more so for mobility—millimeter wave spectrum is suited for a supporting, not a starring, role. Just a month or so after we published our report, our conclusion was underscored by Verizon’s much criticized 5G mobility launch in Chicago and Minneapolis.”