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5G

Verizon sells some 5G spectrum to GeoLinks

Verizon sold a wide swath of millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum licenses to fixed wireless Internet provider GeoLinks. GeoLinks said the licenses cover top markets including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Houston, Washington DC, Boston, Tampa-St. Pete, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Charlotte, St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham and Indianapolis, among others.

GeoLinks said the transaction will make it "the largest holder of LMDS licenses in the 29/31GHz bands." GeoLinks declined to disclose the financial terms of the agreement.

"We sold certain spectrum licenses we've acquired through multiple larger transactions over the past few years that are not suitable for 5G mobility deployment under FCC rules. (FCC rules require this spectrum to be used for point to point solutions.)" a Verizon representative wrote in response to questions from Light Reading. Verizon is working to build a mmWave network that can support both fixed and mobile operations.

Brian Goemmer, the founder of spectrum-tracking company AllNet Insights & Analytics, told Light Reading that the transaction covers roughly 10% of all of Verizon's mmWave spectrum holdings.

The transaction is noteworthy considering Verizon just spent more than $50 billion on midband C-band spectrum licenses, spectrum that can support much broader geographic areas than mmWave spectrum with fewer transmission sites.

Verizon has argued that mmWave spectrum will continue to play a role in its overall 5G network. The operator recently disclosed that it expects to cover up to 2 million households by the end of this year with mmWave signals across roughly 30,000 small cell sites. Verizon also said it expects up to 50% of its network traffic in urban areas to travel over its mmWave network "over time," though it did not provide a firm timeframe for that goal.

Wireless network operators including Verizon routinely conduct spectrum transactions on the so-called "secondary market," or outside of FCC spectrum auctions, in order to flesh out their networks or offload unwanted licenses.

But until today, Verizon appeared to be mostly in mmWave acquisition mode. The operator's hunger for mmWave licenses started in 2016 when it purchased XO Communications for $1.8 billion, which owned fiber and mmWave assets. It kicked into high gear the next year when Verizon beat AT&T in a bidding war for Straight Path, for $3.1 billion, in a transaction that gave Verizon extensive mmWave holdings in the 39GHz and 28GHz bands.

Verizon launched commercial mmWave 5G services, primarily in the 28GHz mmWave band, starting in 2018.

But Verizon's desire for mmWave spectrum didn't end there. For example, it has been snapping up mmWave licenses around the country on the secondary market in recent years. And in 2019 it dropped around $500 million for additional mmWave licenses in the FCC's recent Auction 101 of 28GHz licenses.

Thus, Verizon's mmWave spectrum sale to GeoLinks could represent a simple trimming of the operator's holdings. However, it could also signal a slight withdrawal by the operator from the overall mmWave market. Indeed, the absence of extensive mmWave buildout plans during Verizon's recent analyst event led some financial analysts to conclude that the operator is largely pivoting to midband 5G and backtracking from mmWave 5G.

"The lie of millimeter wave is dead," argued the financial analysts at New Street Research after hearing of Verizon's latest C-band and mmWave buildout targets.

Verizon, for its part, has worked to reject that notion.

Goemmer, of AllNet Insights & Analytics, said the spectrum Verizon is selling to GeoLinks appears to stem from the transaction Verizon inked with Nextlink as part of its purchase of XO.

As for GeoLinks, the company said the licenses it's purchasing from Verizon will allow it to expand its fixed wireless operations, and to provide backhaul services for 5G networks.

"The acquisition of this 28GHz spectrum will allow us to achieve vastly higher speed over longer distances," GeoLinks CEO Skyler Ditchfield said in a release. "With this deal, we will control our own airwaves and have the ability to provide gigabit and multi-gigabit speeds at lower prices and with fiber-like latency and jitter statistics to our customer base across these markets."

GeoLinks earlier this year announced a new fixed wireless platform based on the DOCSIS 3.1 specification that runs in the 60GHz spectrum band. The company said it will be deployed across its footprint.

The move would shift GeoLinks off the crowned 5GHz band it has primarily used across its ten years of operation. The company said the shift would allow it to offer its customers 1 Gbit/s speeds.

GeoLinks counts around 8,000 enterprise customers, and around the same number of residential customers across primarily California and a handful of other states. The company, which primarily operates a fixed wireless Internet network spanning roughly 400 towers, has been working to expand its operations via acquisitions and government funding. For example, the company recently closed on its acquisition of fixed wireless infrastructure and spectrum licenses from TPx Communications (TPx), and it also won $234.9 million in the FCC's recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction for rural broadband services.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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