Verizon is a big fan of deploying its own fiber, but recently completed a proof-of-concept trial with Ericsson using Integrated Access Backhaul (IAB) technology that doesn’t rely on fiber for its 5G service that uses millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.
Included in 3GPP’s latest Release 16, IAB works by using airlink connections instead of a fiber connection to send data throughout a network. In Verizon’s case, it can initially circumvent the need for fiber by using IAB and then when fiber is installed at a location, the data being sent can be switched over to the fiber and the bandwidth can be redistributed for more capacity for customers.
Make no mistake: Verizon favors fiber where it can use it, as the carrier emphasizes throughout its release. It’s invested billions of dollars acquiring fiber assets and building out its fiber footprint. But it acknowledges that working through local regulations and licensing and subsequently installing fiber can result in very long lead times. IAB can serve as a relatively quick solution in the interim.
“Fiber is the ideal connection between our network facilities. It carries a ton of data, is reliable, and has a long roadmap ahead as far as technological advancements. It is essential. However, this new IAB technology allows us to deploy 5G service more quickly and then fill in the essential fiber at a later time,” said Bill Stone, vice president of Planning for Verizon, in a statement.
Stone mentioned IAB during Verizon’s investment day (PDF) back in February, noting it would be using the feature with its mmWave spectrum to get further reach of the signal, along with a host of other technologies in development.
While IAB can be used in any frequency band in which 5G New Radio (NR) operates, mmWave spectrum has been identified as the most relevant spectrum for the backhaul link, according to 5G Americas, which released a white paper last month that examines IAB. Verizon just so happens to control the lion's share of mmWave spectrum in the U.S.
Verizon's press release did not say when it expects to roll out IAB on a commercial basis.
RELATED: AT&T expects to test IAB in 2020, use it more widely in 2021
Rival AT&T last year indicated that 2020 would be a mostly testing year for IAB and that 2021 would be when it uses it more widely.
First responder connections
Verizon said the IAB proof-of-concept trial with Ericsson showed that mobile cell sites also can be connected using IAB, which comes into play for first responders and public safety agencies that need temporary cell coverage for search and rescue, disaster recovery or other emergency situations.
Verizon has been aggressive in trying to keep its dominant market share in the public safety business; AT&T in 2017 won the FirstNet contract to provide a dedicated network for public safety and poses a threat to Verizon in that market.
Verizon said its fleet of mobile cell sites are regularly deployed in emergency situations and noted that until recently, they have required a fiber connection to carry data, restricting where they can be deployed, or a satellite connection, which are limited and costly. With IAB, coupled with portable generators for power, cell sites can be deployed more rapidly and to a wider range of locations.
“When our first responders need us, we will be there with the resources they need to accomplish their mission critical work,” Stone said. “IAB technology gives us many more options to ensure communications resources are where our first responders need them anytime they call on us.”