Verizon earns top network honors, counters doubts about spectrum position

Verizon's spectrum holdings continue to come into question. (FierceWireless)

Verizon just earned the highest ranking for overall U.S. network performance in RootMetric’s latest tests, a few days after J.D. Power said Verizon performed at the top in terms of call, message and data connection experiences.

But Wall Street analyst firm LightShed published a report yesterday based on a massive dataset from Opensignal, which they used to evaluate Verizon’s spectrum position. They said it looks like Verizon is down to its last 10 MHz of downlink spectrum in 57% of the population of the top 50 markets, with a conversion pace that could sustain the company for an estimated 12-18 months. LightShed analysts Walter Piecyk and Joe Galone said it represents one of, if not the most extensive, surveys of real-world spectrum usage across the U.S. 

It's another indication of how analysts continue to question Verizon’s millimeter wave (mmWave) strategy for 5G and its spectrum position for supporting customers in the future. “Verizon’s spectrum position has been a nagging concern for investors and it’s likely to persist in 2020,” wrote the LightShed analysts, whose report was titled: “The Spectrum Story Verizon Doesn’t Want You To Hear.”

“AT&T and T-Mobile have clearly closed the gap on Verizon,” they wrote, referring to multiple third-party reports. In particular, AT&T was much maligned for its 5GE strategy, but AT&T’s utilization of its superior spectrum position has yielded tangible results for AT&T customers. In the latest Opensignal report, AT&T surpassed Verizon for download speeds, the analysts noted.

Verizon resists 

Asked about the report, Verizon Senior Vice President of Technology and Product Development Nicola (Nicki) Palmer said Verizon stands by its record. “We have always provided the best service," said Palmer, who spoke by phone from Miami, where she's overseeing Verizon's “First 5G Super Bowl” at Hard Rock Stadium.

RELATED: Editor’s Corner: Is Verizon losing its network advantage?

Spectrum, of course, is the basic building block for providing service, but it’s not the only thing. There are techniques and technologies at their disposal, such as 256-QAM, additional antennas and small cells.

“We design our networks with the spectrum that we have,” and not only is Verizon a great steward of its spectrum, it provides the best results with the spectrum that it has deployed, she said, noting that the idea that Verizon is in a spectrum-constrained position is one that comes up on an annual basis.

“There’s a lot people out there with ideas on what we should do. I would argue that we have the best network planning and spectrum planning that exists on the planet, and we’ll continue to do so,” she said. “The real result is the service you provide to your customers, and no one can touch us on that.”