How is Verizon evolving its 5G network: A Q&A

‘More than 30% of overall traffic is leveraging C-band,’ says Verizon SVP and chief engineer

On January 19th 2022, Verizon — along with AT&T — turned on its C-band networks, and in doing so, finally shook up the dynamic in which T-Mobile was the only U.S. carrier using large swaths of mid-band spectrum for 5G. To find out more about how that has impacted Verizon’s overall 5G network and its goals moving forward, RCR Wireless spoke with the carrier’s SVP and Chief Engineer Lynn Cox.

Can you start by characterizing the impact that C-band is having on Verizon’s 5G network?

We are off to a fast start with C-band and we are seeing better than expected performance. Peak speeds on just C-band alone are reaching nearly one gigabit per second; the theoretical max for 60 megahertz of spectrum. But, in reality, when we aggregate existing bands of LTE, our customers are seeing well over one gigabit per second in many cases.

Right now, on sites where we have deployed C-band we are seeing more than 30% of overall traffic leveraging this spectrum — even more than we expected. This is not only giving our customers a great experience on C-Band, but our LTE bands are freed up and we are seeing better performance on those bands as a result. The massive capacity of C-band leads to more opportunity across the board. We currently have 60 megahertz of C-band spectrum deployed and when we get access to all of it we’ll average 161 megahertz per market. This is more than double our sub-6 spectrum holdings before the C-band auction.

What can you share with me about Verizon’s 5G outlook for this year? What sort of goals is the company setting for itself?

Last year we said our goal was to cover at least 175M POPs by the end of 2023. We now plan to deliver about 175 million POPs by the end of this year. We are sticking with our guidance to cover at least 250 million POPs by the end of 2024. Additionally, we plan to continue our aggressive pace of adding fixed wireless access coverage throughout the build cycle, reaching our existing target of 50 million households and 14 million businesses by the end of 2025.

Verizon uses mmWave for fixed wireless access (FWA), right? What makes that spectrum suitable for such an application? Will C-band also be used here?

Now covering more than 20 million households and more than 2 million businesses across 900 cities, our FWA services are quickly becoming ubiquitous. We used 28 GHz mmWave equipment in our initial 5G Home markets and since those early days additional infrastructure has been actively deployed in 28 and 39GHz based on the 5G 3GPP NR specification. 

Most recently, we have drastically extended our accessibility with the incorporation of C-band spectrum, and we have a long roadway of 5G expansion in both midband and high band ahead. With the spectrum portfolio we currently have at our disposal, we are confident in our ability to continue aggressively rolling out services where it makes the most sense.

What are some of the other consumer applications that Verizon is focusing on as it looks to monetize 5G?

5G and the essential network technology building blocks of a deep fiber portfolio, expansive fiber footprint and advanced technologies have created a phenomenal platform for innovation which has led to new experiences for mobility and home consumers and rapid digital transformation for small businesses and enterprises. 

On the consumer side, fans recently experienced sports in a whole new way with an exclusive augmented reality (AR) 5G Connected Lens for the Super Bowl. Entertainment and film lovers had the ability to immerse themselves in the Oscars broadcast in an intimate way through three 5G-powered portal experiences. Second graders from the Walt Disney Magnet school in Chicago, IL, experienced singing, dancing and an interactive performance with GoNoodle, character Coach Terry and Miami Dolphins Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. And art lovers were able to immerse themselves in a virtual art experience featuring more than a dozen one-of-a-kind digitally rendered galleries and nearly 50 works of art from across The Met’s vast collection.

What can you tell me about Verizon’s Standalone (SA) progress or efforts? And more broadly, did you expect the industry as a whole to be farther along in SA deployments by this time?

We’re working to enable and expand our 5G Core to support both non-standalone and standalone modes. This flexibility will allow us to pick the best network core for a customer’s particular need. As we start to deploy the stand-alone 5G core later this year, we will add new services on top of the network that will continue to fuel the 5G economy. We’re actively seeding the market with 5G Standalone-capable devices and SIM cards.

In June, we’ll start moving fixed wireless accounts onto the 5G core, allowing us to work with our partners to test. We are in the early days of implementing stand-alone capabilities and we are making great progress with our partners on this front as well. Also, we are beginning to optimize the macro network to move mobility traffic onto the 5G core in 2023.

Any other 5G trends you’re keeping an eye on?

Companies in every industry are finding exciting ways to bring 5G and 5G Edge to life.

In manufacturing, 5G and edge compute can give manufacturers the near real-time responsiveness that enables applications like predictive maintenance and robotics for improved productivity and quality. For example, Corning is using Verizon 5G Edge with AWS Outposts and On Site 5G to enhance innovation at one of the world’s largest fiber-optic cable plants. Corning s currently testing how 5G and MEC can enhance high-speed, high-volume data collection on the factory floor, quality assurance, and on-premises inference using machine learning.

Also, logistics and supply chain solutions company Ice Mobility has used Verizon 5G Edge with Azure Stack Edge to help with computer vision-assisted product packing to improve on site quality assurance.

In sports, ShotTracker is testing how its sensor-based technology can transform the game of basketball. Its system delivers more than 70 unique and autonomous basketball stats and requires millisecond latency to provide teams, broadcasters and game partners with instant analytics. 5G and MEC will speed up the process and allow ShotTracker to layer more data, stats and analysis — in real time — for teams, broadcasters and fans.

For retailers, 5G and edge compute can enable them to process information in near real time to gain actionable data-driven insights to increase inventory accuracy and power fast and flexible supply chains.

And when it comes to gaming, 5G and MEC lets players have a console-quality, multi-player gaming experience on the go and allows developers to rewrite the rules for creating eye-popping, graphics-rich multiplayer action.

What are your thoughts on 6G? Too soon?

It’s way too early to talk about 6G. We are focused on rolling out the best, most reliable 5G network and providing our customers an outstanding experience on this technology. The world has only scratched the surface of capabilities and solutions on this platform that will continue to drive innovation for years to come.

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