Verizon trumpets 'remarkable' 2018, stays mostly mum on 5G mobile plans

Verizon posted 1.2 million retail postpaid net additions in the fourth quarter of 2018. (FierceWireless)

Coming off a “remarkable” 2018, Verizon is trumpeting its 5G firsts—it was the first with a 5G-based fixed wireless service when it launched in parts of four cities last year—but it’s not showing its cards much when it comes to the mobile 5G service.

During Tuesday’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Hans Vestberg ticked off some of the “firsts” that Verizon claimed in 2018: the first to complete an over-the-air data transmission on the 5G global standard, first to complete a 5G data session on a smartphone and, in October, it commercially deployed 5G with its 5G Home product.

But when asked about plans for a mobile 5G deployment, he declined to go into specifics, citing competitive reasons. “I can say we’re deploying as fast as we can,” and much of the work the company has done the past couple of years has been to prepare for 5G—everything from fiber deployments to agreements with cities, he said, noting all of the work Verizon has done thus far by way of engineering, operations, marketing and installation is providing valuable insight.

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Verizon earlier this month revealed that it posted 1.2 million retail postpaid net additions in the fourth quarter of 2018. Today, it said that consisted of 653,000 phone net additions, 11,000 tablet additions and 556,000 other connected devices, primarily wearables. Postpaid smartphone net additions were 873,000 compared with 647,000 in fourth-quarter 2017, a 34.9% increase.

For the full-year 2018, Verizon reported postpaid net additions of 2.5 million, consisting of phone net additions of 1.1 million, tablet losses of 181,000 and 1.6 million other connected device additions. Postpaid smartphone net additions for full-year 2018 were 2 million, up 13% year over year.

Verizon often boasts about how it led the industry to commercialize 5G faster than it was originally expected, and Vestberg today claimed it triggered the industry to move a year and a half to two years ahead of schedule. The carrier launched its 5G service in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento in October based on the 5G Technology Forum specification as opposed to the 3GPP 5G standard and it has always said it plans to upgrade customer premise equipment (CPE) to the 3GPP standard—at no charge to the customer—once that equipment becomes available.

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Asked about when he expects gear based on the 3GPP New Radio (NR) standard, “we definitely believe that this year, we will get CPEs on the NR standard in the second half of 2019 so that’s where we are,” Vestberg said. “We are building the network as we‘re speaking and as soon as we see the availability of the CPEs we will of course start getting that out into the marketplace.”

However, the first 5G handsets will be coming out commercially in the first half of 2019 and Verizon has announced two handsets—one from Motorola and the other from Samsung; the one from Samsung has not yet been shown, but “hopefully it will be seen soon,” he said. As soon as those are ready and the interoperability testing is done, it will be launching that. Vestberg also reiterated its 5G network is a multi-use network, so both mobility and fixed will be delivered from the same network.

Verizon is hosting an investor day Feb. 21, when it’s expected to dive deeper into its finances for 2019.