Verizon’s options to launch mid-band or low-band 5G in the near future appear limited, even as AT&T and T-Mobile are moving to launch low-band 5G next year.
Last week, Verizon launched more millimeter-wave high-band 5G in parts of four new US cities. But interest is growing in what other spectrum the operator will use and when for 5G services.
The operator now has newly deployed 5G mobile service in parts of Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis and Washington, DC. This follows mobile 5G launches in parts of Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Providence and St. Paul earlier in 2019.
But Verizon knows that millimeter wave spectrum alone will not provide nationwide coverage of 5G. "We all need to remind ourselves this is not a coverage spectrum," CEO Hans Vestberg said of millimeter-wave on Verizon’s first-quarter call in April, adding, "We will do it as far as economically sustainable."
The carrier remains mum on which spectrum it will use when it moves beyond millimeter wave. "We have said that we’ll move to other frequencies, we just haven’t said when yet," a Verizon spokeswoman told Light Reading last Wednesday.
"Ultimately, 5G is going to be on all bands," Vestberg said on the carrier’s second-quarter earnings call last Thursday.
Spectrum options One option for Verizon is to use dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). This technology allows operators to share existing spectrum between 4G and 5G, rather than rigidly allocating separate bands for each. For instance, T-Mobile already has 5G-ready network equipment in place that will share 600MHz between 4G and 5G.
Verizon cannot share its 5G 28GHz millimeter wave spectrum because no 4G systems work in that frequency. Still, on the Thursday call, Vestberg said that the operator would implement DSS sometime in 2020. Verizon hasn’t revealed what its plans are yet, but this probably means that the operator wants to roll out 5G in its 700MHz spectrum or 1700/2100 MHz AWS spectrum next year.
Verizon has also been interested in using 3.5GHz CBRS mid-band spectrum for 4G and 5G for several years. Although, currently the spectrum in the band has yet to be approved as a 5G frequency. The CBRS alliance says that 3.5GHz will be cleared for 5G use in 2020.
EJL Wireless president Earl Lum says that Verizon has already installed "5G-ready" equipment in a "majority" of its 3.5GHz small cells to take advantage of the public 80MHz of General Authorized Access (GAA) 3.5GHz spectrum becoming available soon. Commercial GAA services are now expected to start in the spring or summer of 2020.
There is no auction on schedule from the FCC yet for the 70MHz of licensed 3.5GHz PAL spectrum in the band.
“[CBRS] is a great option if you didn’t have to do small cells," said Lum. The transmission power limits -- and hence coverage range -- of CBRS are currently capped for indoor and outdoor small cells. CBRS small cells now offer WiFi-like coverage ranges.
Verizon could be helped indirectly by its rival AT&T in the CBRS matter. Ma Bell proposed a new category of CBRS device back in May this year that can broadcast over power levels of up to 62-decibel milliwatts (dBm) over 10MHz, rather than the indoor small cell power level of up to 30dBm over 10MHz available.
This would give the CBRS category C devices greater ranges than the 1,000 to 2,000 feet of millimeter-wave 5G, but less the kilometers offered by 4G macro systems. AT&T’s proposal, though, has yet to be approved by the FCC.
Verizon also has other choices amongst proposed FCC spectrum auctions.
The FCC is proposing selling off two 50MHz blocks and a 16.5MHz block of 2.5GHz spectrum in county-size licenses. An auction of this nature favors major carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, who would have billions to spend on any such sale.
Also, the FCC is considering opening up to 500MHz of C-band spectrum for 5G usage. This is occurring against a background of arguments between satellite providers and cable companies over how much bandwidth would be allowed for 5G services, with satellite vendors proposing only 130MHz for 5G, while some cable companies have suggested up to 370MHz for the wireless service.
We don’t yet know when the FCC will move on 2.5GHz or C-band auctions. Verizon would undoubtedly be in an excellent position to spend billions on new mid-band 5G spectrum when the auctions take place. But it could take a couple of years for those auctions to occur.
Verizon had previously looked to be in the catbird seat with its early millimeter-wave 5G launch. Its $3.1 billion acquisition of Straight Path in May 2017 gave Verizon access to 28GHz and 39GHz licenses in areas like New York and San Francisco, without needing to win a 5G auction.
Since then, the carrier has rolled out millimeter-wave 5G services with limited range and indoor coverage. The carrier can offer gigabit downloads, but only in the right place at right time.
- Rural America Might See More 5G With FCC's New 2.5GHz Order
- Satellite Giants Battered by New C-Band Proposals for 5G
- 3.5GHz CBRS Band Deployments Face Yet Another Delay
- Verizon Buys Straight Path for $3.1B, Beating AT&T to 5G Spectrum
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading