Rootmetrics gives an early look at Verizon’s CBRS network in Philly

Amid all the anticipation for Verizon’s C Band spectrum plans, Rootmetrics today released an early look at how the carrier is deploying the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum in its network in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

While Verizon’s enormous investment in C Band spectrum has somewhat stolen the show, the carrier was also the biggest spender on CBRS Priority Access Licenses in last year’s PAL auction (although Dish Network nabbed a higher number of individual licenses). Verizon put nearly $1.9 billion on 557 PALs in 157 counties, buying in some of the most expensive markets,  bidding on pricey licenses in places like Los Angeles county, CA where the cost of a single PAL was $52 million; but also in other small-to-mid-sized markets around the country, typically buying at least three PALs in the counties where it did buy.

CBRS has been a project for Verizon since its inception, according to Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s SVP of network technology and planning, and the carrier has wasted no time in lighting up CBRS sites. That is borne out by Rootmetrics’ assessments.

Rootmetrics said in its new report that Verizon “significantly increased its usage of CBRS spectrum throughout 2020.” The benchmarking company tested 125 cities in the second half of last year and observed CBRS spectrum in use on Verizon’s network in 70 metropolitan areas, up from 41 cities in the first half of 2020. Rootmetrics said that it had not observed CBRS in use on the networks of either AT&T or T-Mobile US to date — which is why its Philadelphia report focused solely on Verizon.

Rootmetrics also noted that Verizon has been using GAA since well before the PALs auction: It recorded Verizon using GAA CBRS in eight of the 55 markets that it tested before it had to pause its first-half 2020 testing due to the pandemic. After Memorial Day, its testing teams saw Verizon using GAA in 33 out of 70 cities tested.

In Philly, the CBRS sites generally followed the path of the Delaware River, according to Rootmetrics CEO Kevin Hasley. Sites corresponded to high-congestion areas and to the waterfront.

In general, Hasley said, Verizon has spent a lot of time and effort to get mmWave out into deployment, and “the focus has to be now to make 5G [availability]as wide as possible, including leveraging the spectrum they have already acquired for CBRS,” he said.

Rootmetrics said that in the first half of 2020, it saw CBRS spectrum in use in just 0.03% of its download tests on Verizon’s network. In the second half, that had ballooned to more than 3% of tests. “While 3% may appear insignificant at an absolute level, the carrier’s jump in CBRS usage from
0.03% to 3.24% marked a massive increase,” Rootmetrics said.

Rootmetrics also said that Verizon’s expanded use of CBRS spectrum led to faster overall network speeds for the carrier. “Perhaps even more importantly, the speeds we recorded for Verizon entirely on its mid-band 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum were incredibly fast and much faster than its non-CBRS speeds,” the report added. Using the Samsung Galaxy S20 for the testing, Rootmetrics said that it achieved median download speeds in CBRS versus non-CBRS spectrum of 135.1 Mbps and 64.2 Mbps, respectively. Peak speeds were even more impressive: 692.1 Mbps in CBRS spectrum and 404.9 Mbps in non-CBRS spectrum.

Koeppe said that as a results of the PALs auction, in additional to General Authorized Access to the CBRS spectrum, Verizon has up to 40 megahertz of PALs in the densest markets around the country. Coupling that additional spectrum with the carrier’s existing small cell networks and its engineering and build teams, he said, means faster deployment and a “tremendous lift to your LTE capacity.”

While the power limits for CBRS sites are fairly restrictive, Koeppe said, they are a good fit for small cells and urban rooftop sites. He noted that there is also a clear path to 5G New Radio in CBRS; every single CBRS site that Verizon builds has the ability to use PALs and the ability to become a 5G NR site, he added, saying that there is a “pretty cool natural transition from LTE to 5G with the CBRS frequencies.”

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