Verizon: Strike among wireline workers isn't affecting 5G tests, wireless network

Verizon said its ongoing tests of 5G network technology have been unaffected by the ongoing strike of roughly 40,000 of its unionized employees, who mainly work on the carrier's wireline network.

"We're even continuing to test 5G technology, so our customers can be confident that Verizon remains focused on providing a great wireless network experience, today and into the future," Chuck Hamby, a Verizon spokesperson, wrote in response to questions from FierceWireless on the topic.

"For the Verizon Wireless network teams, it's business-as-usual: we are still working every day to activate 4GLTE cell sites where needed, to deploy small-cell technology in urban areas that need the boost, to add XLTE across the country and reach 500+ U.S. markets with that technology, to test and refine existing sites, to install Distributed Antennae Systems in arenas and public spaces that draw large crowds, and more," Hamby wrote, adding that the carrier has seen "no effect" on its retail sales, including from its wireless stores.

Hamby's comments are notable considering Verizon's wireline fiber network could play a significant role in the carrier's ultimate deployment of 5G network technology, mainly by providing speedy backhaul and fronthaul at its cell sites. Indeed, Verizon's planned deployment of its FiOS network in Boston will help the carrier lay the fiber it will use as the backbone for a 5G network in the city, Bob Mudge, president of Verizon's wireline network operations, told the Boston Herald recently. (Verizon in April promised to invest $300 million over the next six years to lay 800 miles of FiOS cable in Boston, providing newfound competition for Comcast in a major market for fiber-to-the-home.)

Moreover, Verizon's first efforts in 5G will center on fixed wireless applications. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said in April that the carrier will pilot fixed wireless 5G services starting in 2017. "Currently, we're testing 5G technologies this year and we aim to have an initial fixed wireless pilot starting in 2017, and I want to reiterate that this is a fixed wireless, which is really one of the first cases that we see, it's really not about mobile, it's really around fixed wireless," Shammo said during an earnings conference call with analysts. A fixed wireless application of 5G technology could indicate Verizon may initially use 5G spectrum bands like 24 GHz as a way to extend the reach of its FiOS service in its wireline markets.

After 10 months of negotiation without a new contract agreement, Verizon's 40,000 wireline workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) went on strike at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, April 13. Wireline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia have been working without a contract since Aug. 1, 2015, and have yet to come to terms with Verizon on issues including health care and job security.

Despite Verizon's assurances that it's "business as usual" amid the strike, the company in its first quarter earnings report did warn that the strike could affect its financial situation if it lasts too long. "Verizon continues to expect full-year 2016 adjusted earnings to be at a level comparable to the company's strong full-year 2015 adjusted earnings," Verizon said in its first quarter earnings release. "However, given the status of labor contract negotiations, there will be pressure on second-quarter earnings due to the timing of cost reductions."

Special Report: Verizon CWA, IBEW workers' 2016 strike: full coverage

Related articles:
Verizon suffers 150-plus fiber cuts on Northeast network amidst labor strike
Verizon, XO Communications say strike is not delaying fiber deal
Verizon's Shammo: 5G pilot in 2017 is all about fixed wireless, not mobility

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