Verizon's Fixed 5G: Are You Ready for the Wireless Gig Rush?

Dan Jones
News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor
11/15/2017



BEDMINSTER, N.J. -- Verizon Labs -- If Verizon wants you to know one thing about its forthcoming fixed 5G service -- arriving in 2018 -- it is that the wireless offering will deliver a consistent average gigabit on the downlink, not some theoretical peak speed that the user will never actually achieve in the real world.

The 1Gbit/s speed was stressed several times as we were taken on a tour of the Verizon Wireless Labs, which used to be the headquarters of Bell Atlantic, and still appeared to feature much of the authentic 1970s beige and avocado green decor. The reason is simple enough: Verizon is viewing fixed 5G as an over-the-air version of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service, with -- hopefully -- much reduced deployment and installation costs for the operator.

"When we say 1 gig, we're talking averages, we're not talking peaks," said Mike Haberman, the vice president of network support at Verizon Wireless, on Tuesday.

What does this mean for the average household? Haberman suggested, for instance, that -- like FiOS -- Fixed 5G could support ten -- count 'em -- 4K streaming TVs on the system. As a rule of thumb, fixed 5G could use about ten times the data of a Verizon 4G connection.

The typical set-up will have a 28GHz 5G small cell radio within a quarter mile of the homes the service is expected to serve. These could be apartment buildings or suburban cul-de-sacs.

Verizon execs wouldn't yet say how many dwellings they expected to be able to serve with each high band radio. Line-of-sight connections are best, but Verizon insisted that non-line of sight can also work.

The 28GHz antenna would sit in a window and connect to a router inside the dwelling to distribute the signal via WiFi. Verizon showed off a 28GHz antenna from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) that it has been using in its 11-market fixed 5G pre-commercial user tests.

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)'s Bell Labs unit has also been working to create a similar window-mounted antenna unit for Verizon, which connects the 5G antenna via an optical connection, because 28GHz signals do not penetrate walls or windows well. Verizon has also been experimenting with ribbon cable connections between the antenna and router section of the CPE. (See Nokia Bell Labs & Verizon Stretch Fixed 5G to the Home and Could 5G Have Found Its Glass Ceiling? for more on this issue.)

"It does actually penetrate walls sometimes," Haberman said, "better than Low-E glass."

In fact, in dense deployments, Verizon is expecting the multiplicty of guided 28GHz beams from multi-antenna arrays to enable 5G signals to find a path through beamforming and "ray tracing." Although once tree cover gets too heavy, or solid obstacles, such as, say, a new housing development arrive, all bets are off.

Which leads to the question of whether the 28GHz antennas should be self-installed or professionally installed? "We're looking at that right now," Haberman said.

Clearly, it would be better for Verizon if the systems could be entirely installed by the customer, as this would cut down on the truck rolls for the carrier.

At the moment it appears that Verizon is likely to deploy in cities and more dense suburban environments. Haberman indicated that Verizon can't yet say which markets will be first, but they should start popping up in 2018.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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