Verizon not vulnerable in midband spectrum position, CTO says

Verizon’s CEO recently urged the Federal Communications Commission to open up access to C-band airwaves for 5G, although Verizon CTO Kyle Malady said Thursday that he doesn’t feel vulnerable at all about the carrier’s current midband spectrum position.

Malady’s comments came in response to questions posed at Wells Fargo Telecom 5G Forum, though he acknowledged more spectrum is never a bad thing.

“As an engineer and technical guy I’ll always take more spectrum,” said Malady. “It’s the lifeblood of our industry, I’ll always want more because if I have more I can do more.”

Verizon has significant millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum holdings, including 39 GHz licenses acquired from StraightPath. The carrier’s initial fixed and mobile 5G launches use 28 GHz spectrum, and Malady said the company has learned a lot in the first couple months since early mobile 5G deployments in Minneapolis and Chicago.

RELATED: AT&T, T-Mobile lead bids in 24 GHz auction

Engineers are loading software for fixes and to enhance performance nearly every other day, according to Malady, in contrast to years ago when such a task might take months.

Malady spoke about a technique of chunking spectrum into segments, and in the two mobile launch cities Verizon is currently using four segments or 400 megahertz, but it is working on bringing that up to eight segments.

“So, we’re only using half roughly of what we potentially can, and we’re getting crazy speeds, over 2 gigs,” he said. Engineers are also working on optimizing beamforming and about seven or eight critical technical elements.

“It [mmWave spectrum] opens up so many possibilities for innovation and for people to do things with because there’s so much bandwidth,” Malady said.

RELATED: Verizon CEO urges FCC to release C-band spectrum

While millimeter wave is known for large bandwidth capable of delivering high speeds and capacity, propagation characteristics make broad, far-reaching coverage a challenge. Opening up midband spectrum, which still handles more capacity, but can travel greater distances, has become a focus for the wireless industry in an effort to deliver 5G coverage. 

Malady reiterated that Verizon’s nationwide network is already operating in a variety of bands, managing the varying characteristics of each. He said the carrier has 160 megahertz that it can “easily convert to 5G over time and make coverage layers.”

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg recently met with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, explaining that “prompt access to midband spectrum is now critical to achieving the full promise of 5G.” He asked the FCC to quickly get unused C-band spectrum “in the hands of 5G providers who stand ready to deploy,” according to an ex parte filing (PDF).

Speaking Thursday, Malady said it would be great if the FCC finds a way to free up C-band spectrum, noting the band is largely unencumbered and engineers could “do some really good things with it.”

“Would I like to have it [midband C-band spectrum]? Fantastic. Do I need to have it? Not necessarily,” Malady said.

Malady also discussed fiber, another asset that is core to Verizon’s network strategy, with dense fiber deployments happening in more than 60 markets.  

“We don’t see anything in the future that’s going to be a better medium for connectivity to connect networks than fiber,” he said. 

When asked if fiber is critical to support mmWave mobile 5G across Verizon’s planned 2019 launch cities, Malady said the best way to characterize it is, “frankly, wireless becomes fiber with antennas hanging off of it.”

Similar to Verizon’s spectrum strategy, which will be utilized for mobility first but can be extended to future customer needs as they arise, Malady said by putting fiber assets in the ground, various parts of the business can tap into it for different uses.

“We build it once, and then everyone can utilize it,” said Malady.