Verizon's Vestberg: Small cell numbers do not measure 5G progress

Verizon Hans Vestberg (Verizon)
Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg said Monday that the carrier's network is undergoing a "huge transformation." (Verizon)

Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg kicked off the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit Monday morning with an in-depth discussion of Verizon's network plans. He described Verizon's network development as one in which "basically everything from the data center up to the access is the same equipment ... it's a huge transformation."

Vestberg said Verizon is building a network that will be able to dynamically support multiple 5G use cases through network slicing.

"One slice is fixed wireless, another is mobility, another is enterprise solutions," Vestberg said. "All the blocks are the same up to the access. It is the same baseband, the same software handling different slices. You can even handle different slices on the handset."

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Analyst Craig Moffett pressed Vestberg for an update on the number of small cells the carrier has deployed, but Vestberg refused to share that information and went on to say the number of small cells deployed to date is not really an important indicator of 5G progress.

"The important [thing] is to build the network that performs the best, and then you use all the tools. And we are using all the tools," Vestberg said. He went on to list the tools in Verizon's 5G toolbox.

“When I think about 5G, fiber is a crucial element for it," Vestberg said. "Spectrum is also. especially if you want to have the real 5G use cases, you need millimeter wave. You need central offices because ultimately you are going to have thousands of small data centers that can do things. And finally, you also need to have been virtualizing the network, taking out hardware and software, and you need AI as well. We are of course super fortunate to have the whole Yahoo Team and AOL team that has been working with AI.”

Vestberg elaborated on his comments around fiber and spectrum. He said Verizon's investments in fiber predate his tenure as CTO, and he is confident the company can build and acquire the fiber it will need without exceeding its projected capital expenditures ($17 billion to $17.8 billion for this year.) He also said Verizon has made more progress with millimeter wave spectrum than any of its competitors, with trials in 11 locations to date.

Verizon, for its part, has said that it will launch fixed wireless 5G services in three to five cities this year, and that its mobile 5G launch will occur roughly six months afterward.