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.

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Light Reading.

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

Phil_Britt 10/27/2017 | 8:28:55 AM
Re: FYI I'll believe it when I see it. I wrote about 2.5G for several years while 3G was "just around the corner." Though the jump to 4G and then to 5G coming faster, the promise of these launch of these developments always seem to be far in excess of the the reality.
KBode 10/23/2017 | 4:33:09 PM
Re: 5G Will Build Off Fixed Wireless Yeah their $300 billion investment highlights much of what this will look like. 
JDonahue 10/20/2017 | 1:40:40 PM
5G Will Build Off Fixed Wireless A Verizon spokeperson in the New England area told the Provisence Journal that 5G mobile will be built off fixed wireless and that they would have an announcement about fixed wireless before the end of the year regarding a commercial roll out.

They have several 5G cans on top of poles in Providence for testing even though that was never announced.
DanJones 10/19/2017 | 3:01:29 PM
Re: FYI Qualcomm says 1H19 for 5G smartphones. So I would imagine that will be the vague target for mobile 5G, but they won't quite say that yet.
Michelle 10/19/2017 | 2:37:18 PM
Re: FYI Thanks for the extra info. It would have been nice to have an idea of the timing.
DanJones 10/19/2017 | 1:13:51 PM
FYI FYI, I've asked Verizon and multiple vendors about timing on moving from 5GTF to 3GPP for 5G. Either no reply or people don't want to talk about migration plans yet.
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