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5G

Verizon's mmWave 5G deployment continues to polarize

Two new studies look at the performance of Verizon's millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G network. And though they're both working from the same basic set of data, they offer decidedly different findings.

"The analysis confirms the critical role of 5G mmWave for its intended purpose: deliver massive increases in localized capacity to address the ever-growing demand for data in key areas," argued Qualcomm in its assessment of Verizon's mmWave network in Chicago.

But EJL Wireless Research, in a study of Verizon's mmWave networks in San Diego and Chula Vista, California, offered a very different viewpoint.

"We continue to believe that from a financial perspective, there is a low success of Verizon Wireless receiving monetary compensation that would equal the capex [capital expenditure] costs for its 5G UWB networks across the United States," the firm wrote in a study that was commissioned by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union. "We also continue to be bearish that Verizon Wireless can achieve a high enough coverage area within a city to offer reliable 5G UWB mobile or Home Internet services compared to its current 4G LTE coverage within the same city."

Each study found that Verizon's mmWave network – dubbed ultra wideband, or UWB, by the operator – covered relatively small areas with speedy connections. But they offered different analyses of what that means for mobile network operators.

Verizon, for its part, operates around 30,000 mmWave sites and has promised to continue investing in the technology.

mmWave measurements

Qualcomm, in its findings, argued that mmWave technology should not be assessed by traditional wireless networking measurements like coverage or the amount of time users are connected. Instead, the company said that the most important measurement for the technology is the amount of traffic that's offloaded to 5G mmWave. The company said operators should view the technology as "similar to other capacity-oriented cellular technologies – such as small cells, LAA and CBRS, which are designed to provide significant relief on cellular networks."

A significant chunk of Qualcomm's business involves selling mmWave-capable chipsets to smartphone manufacturers.

"Using Verizon traffic data, the team's calculations show that 46% of the data traffic generated by 5G-capable devices is transmitted over mmWave bands – an impressive figure considering that 20% of the operator device base is 5G smartphones, and mmWave coverage in this area is focused on outdoor areas such as streets and parks," the firm wrote.

Qualcomm found that Verizon's mmWave network in Chicago handled 46% of users' overall data. Click here for a larger version of this image. (Source: Qualcomm)
Qualcomm found that Verizon's mmWave network in Chicago handled 46% of users' overall data. Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: Qualcomm)

The company concluded that 5G mmWave "already offloads significant portions of the data traffic," thus highlighting the "importance of mmWave in the evolution of 5G."

The glass is half empty

In its own study of Verizon's mmWave 5G network, EJL offered quite a different take.

First, the firm found that Verizon's network offered speedy connections to those who could access it. It concluded that there were not many users on the network, and therefore download speeds often exceeded 1 Gbit/s.

EJL offered detailed speed tests of Verizon's mmWave network.  Click here for a larger version of this image. (Source: EJL)
EJL offered detailed speed tests of Verizon's mmWave network.
Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: EJL)

However, the firm said that Verizon's mmWave signals could only travel several hundred feet, creating plenty of locations where speeds dipped as phones shifted to Verizon's broader lowband 5G network.

"We do not see any direct benefits to a city who is willing to partner with Verizon Wireless in a P3 (Private Public Partnership) agreement in exchange for potential benefits from Verizon Wireless that would connect the urban unconnected or close the broadband gap in low-income areas within a city," EJL concluded. Verizon and AT&T pursued such partnerships in the early days of 5G to obtain mmWave cell site locations, but have since shifted away from that strategy.

EJL provides research and analysis in the wireless industry. Roughly 22% of Verizon's workforce is represented by the Communications Workers of America or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions.

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

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