Verizon Says Fixed 5G Will Happen in 2018, Less Clear on Mobile
Verizon is still promising to start delivering commercial fixed wireless 5G sometime in 2018, but won’t yet be drawn on the timing for the arrival of its next-generation mobile service.
"Pre-commercial fixed wireless 5G trials are continuing." said CFO Matt Ellis on the operator's third-quarter earnings call Thursday morning. "We'll have more specifics later in the fourth quarter."
Verizon has field trials continuing in 11 cities in the US. It is largely using 28GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) setups for fixed wireless tests.
Later, in the Q&A session, Ellis did elucidate a little further, saying that the trials are going "very well" and that Verizon has non-line of sight (NLOS) connections over mmWave. "We've experienced delivering service to MDUs [multi-dwelling units]," Ellis commented. "Over 20 floors, which is more than we expected when we started the trials."
The company is expecting to start offering 5G as a gigabit-plus fixed wireless alternative to cable commercially in 2018. "Nothing has changed," Ellis said.
Ellis, however, wouldn't be drawn on exactly when Verizon will start deploying mobile 5G for smartphones and more. "It's certainly not a 2018 activity," Ellis allowed.
This is significant because Verizon said this week that it will work with Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) on "over-the-air" trials of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G New Radio (NR) standard in 2018. This suggests that Verizon will use its own 5GTF standard for initial 5G fixed wireless service, while working on a "migration path" to the 3GPP standard. Light Reading has asked Verizon about its migration plans this week but the operator hasn't replied yet. (See Verizon Migrating From Homebrew 5G, Enlists Qualcomm for Trials.)
Ellis also wouldn't be drawn on how much a nationwide 5G network might eventually cost to deploy and whether that would push Verizon's current capital expenditure (capex) up. An analyst stated on the call that he had seen media reports that it could cost up to $50 billion to deploy.
Contextually, this is because mmWave-based 5G is expected to have a much lower coverage range than current 4G. In fact, 5G mmWave small cells might need to be deployed every block or so to provide coverage.
Like a dutiful CFO, Ellis downplayed any future cost concerns. "I think of the people who are estimating those numbers are getting ahead of themselves and it's just way too early to tell," he said.
In fact, Verizon is still waiting on a couple of mmWave transactions to close -- the XO spectrum licenses and Straight Path acquisition -- before it has access to commercial licenses anyway. These are expected to close in 2018.
Meanwhile, Ellis is expecting 2017 capex on the lower end of its guidance, even as Verizon updates its 4G network. "That's still going to be around $17 billion of spend, so that's not an insignificant number," he noted.
Ellis says that Verizon is now using just over 50% of its low- and mid-band portfolio for 4G. The operator expects to start rolling out new AWS-3 spectrum for 4G in 2018 and refarming PCS spectrum for 4G use.
For the third quarter, Verizon reported net phone additions of 274,000. The operator listed 603,000 postpaid net additions (monthly subscribers) overall, of which 91,000 were tablets, and 238,000 were wearable devices, such as smartwatches.
The CFO is expecting those numbers to rise in the fourth quarter with the launch of the iPhone X and Google Pixel 2. "If you're paying a thousand dollars for a new handset, you’re going to want it to be on a good network, so we're confident we're going to get more than our fair share,” Ellis boasted.
He said that Internet of Things (IoT) sales were up approximately 13% overall. Car-based telematics represented over $220 million for the quarter, Ellis noted.
Verizon added 66,000 Fios Internet connections, but lost 18,000 video customers due to OTT competition. "Fios video was pressured by over-the-top offerings," Ellis noted.
The new Oath business -- combining AOL and Yahoo -- brought in $2 billion in revenue for the quarter, Ellis said in the call rundown. He also suggested that Oath brings in 1 billion "content customers" for Verizon "globally."
Meanwhile, the major video content partnership that CEO Lowell McAdam hinted at earlier this summer is still in the works, Ellis said. "Probably around live programming," Ellis allowed. "But how -- and when -- we do that is still TBD."
He wouldn't comment on the expected Sprint-T-Mobile merger, which could be announced as early as next week. "There's various rumors around M&A all the time ... I'm not going to comment on other people's businesses." (See Sprint & T-Mobile Aim to Keep as Much Spectrum as Possible in Merger – Report.)
Verizon's total revenue came in at $31.72 billion, compared to $30.94 billion a year ago. Net income for the quarter was flat compared to the same quarter last year at $3.62 billion, or $0.86 a share. The third quarter 2017 earnings included a $0.01 per-share impact as a result of the hurricanes in Florida and Texas in September. So adjusted earnings per share were $0.98, concurrent with analyst expectations.
Verizon's shares are trading up just over 2% at $49.63 after the earnings call on Thursday.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading