Verizon starts deploying LTE in its AWS spectrum

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has started deploying LTE in its AWS spectrum to boost capacity in key markets, a Verizon spokesman confirmed.

Verizon Wireless executives, including CEO Dan Mead and Nicola Palmer, chief network officer at Verizon, have said the carrier would deploy LTE in  the AWS spectrum Verizon purchased for $3.9 billion from a group of cable companies last year in the second half of 2013. The spectrum is being used to augment Verizon's existing LTE network, which runs on its 700 MHz C Block spectrum and covers more than 300 million POPs. 

"As our customers' wireless data usage continues to grow, AWS spectrum is being deployed to ensure the continued consistent reliability and capacity of our 4G LTE network," Verizon spokesman Tom Pica told FierceWireless. "Verizon Wireless has begun activating 4G LTE service on its AWS spectrum in many of our major markets across the US.  A limited number of devices are AWS capable at this time. We plan to push a software upgrade to other AWS-capable devices in the near future."

Pica declined to say which markets Verizon is deploying LTE in AWS spectrum first or how quickly the rollout will proceed.

Verizon has been seeding LTE devices into its lineup that can take advantage of 1700/2100 MHz AWS spectrum. Those airwaves are the same ones T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is using for its LTE network, which now covers 202 million POPs. AWS is the most popular band for LTE in the Americas, according to Tolaga Research.

A GigaOM reader alerted the publication that in New York City he was using Verizon's LTE network to achieve downlink speeds of 80 Mbps and uplink speeds of 15 Mbps, according to Ookla's Speedtest app. In many markets where it is deploying AWS spectrum, Verizon will be able to use 20x20 MHz channels; wider channels allow for faster speeds. In some markets it will have smaller than 20x20 MHz channels. T-Mobile plans to deploy 20x20 MHz channels on its LTE network in 2014 and 2015.

Real-world speeds will likely be slower than 80 Mbps once the Verizon network gets more fully loaded with AWS-capable devices, but will be faster than the 5-12 Mbps average Verizon has advertised for its existing LTE network.

Palmer told FierceWireless earlier this year that "AWS provides a great growth strategy to handle capacity demands on 4G LTE. We will deploy 5,000 AWS sites this year and it will be a lot more next year." She said Verizon will go to existing sites and equip them with AWS antennas.

Palmer has said the company will deploy LTE Advanced features such as carrier aggregation strategically where it needs it. She has said that Verizon is aggressively looking at carrier aggregation for its 700 MHz and AWS spectrum. Carrier aggregation allows carriers to meld together disparate bands of spectrum for wider channels.

In the years ahead, other carriers plan to use carrier aggregation technology to boost LTE network capacity. AT&T (NYSE:T) plans to use the 700 MHz Lower D and E Block licenses it acquired in 2011 from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) for an LTE Broadcast service, according to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

Stephenson disclosed the plans during an appearance late last month at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. AT&T acquired the unpaired licenses for $1.93 billion in December 2011 from Qualcomm, which had used the frequencies for its now-defunct MediaFLO mobile TV service. AT&T previously said it intended to use the spectrum to provide a supplemental downlink using LTE Advanced carrier aggregation in conjunction with its other AWS, PCS and cellular licenses. That still seems like part of the plan, as Stephenson said AT&T will look to pair the former Qualcomm spectrum with other spectrum bands.

Sprint (NYSE:S), meanwhile, plans to have devices ready late this year and through next year that can take advantage of LTE services on its 1900 MHz, 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands, the last of which it acquired along with Clearwire. Sprint hopes the 2.5 GHz airwaves--it holds an average of 120 MHz in many major markets--will give it a capacity advantage over other carriers.

For more:
- see this GigaOM article

Related Articles:
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Verizon taps Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson for LTE small cells
Verizon's Mead reiterates VoLTE launch for 2014, promises more LTE small cells
Verizon's Palmer details the company's AWS deployment strategy, VoLTE launch plans and more

Article updated at 1:15 p.m. ET to clarify that not all markets where Verizon Wireless will deploy LTE on its AWS spectrum will be markets where Verizon will be able to have 20x20 MHz spectrum channels.