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open RAN

Verizon to start deploying open RAN gear this year

Verizon SVP Adam Koeppe said the operator's 5G hardware vendors – Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia – will begin supplying open RAN-compliant equipment starting later this year. And he expects that the bulk of their equipment shipments to Verizon will comply with open RAN specifications by next year.

Koeppe explained that open RAN technology will open up the connection between the vendors' baseband and radio products, thereby allowing Verizon to mix and match products from different vendors. Previously, Verizon's vendors linked their baseband products to their radio products using a proprietary connection that prevented Verizon from disassembling those elements.

Koeppe added that Verizon will use that open RAN equipment to construct a 5G network in its millimeter wave (mmWave) and C-band spectrum holdings.

The move to open RAN, Koeppe said, will allow Verizon to more easily slot in new hardware vendors into its network.

"If you've got a new company that's providing phenomenal radio equipment, that's different from what's in the market today, when they're all making O-RAN-compliant equipment and following the specifications of O-RAN, you can choose to bring in some of that best-in-class equipment from maybe a non-traditional partner," he told Light Reading. "So that's really the intent behind having that openness on the radio access network."

Importantly, Koeppe explained that Verizon's move to open RAN builds on the operator's embrace of virtual RAN technology. He said the operator's vendors are already supplying baseband software that can run inside Verizon-supplied hardware. He said that development – which Verizon executives have discussed in the past – helps to support a move to open RAN technology.

Massive MIMO flexibility

Koeppe's comments come a day after Verizon announced it will spend an extra $10 billion over the next three years to construct a 5G network in the $53 billion worth of C-band spectrum Verizon purchased in an FCC auction.

That effort will involve Verizon's technicians and vendors adding new radios to Verizon's cell towers to broadcast C-band signals.

Koeppe said Verizon will embrace Massive MIMO technology within its new C-band radios, but he said the operator will not take a one-size-fits-all approach to MIMO. Instead, he said the operator will choose different MIMO configurations – for example, 32x32 or 64x64 – depending on its needs in a given location. In some locations, he said the operator might choose a more powerful configuration based on the traffic at that location and the operator's spectrum holdings there.

Another key element in Verizon's C-band spectrum buildout is the weight and size of the radios that the operator will hang on its towers. After all, some tower operators have gleefully argued that they will be able to make more money from renting space on their towers for large Massive MIMO antennas.

Koeppe declined to provide the exact size and weight specifications of Verizon's planned C-band radios. However, he said that, in general, Verizon's midband C-band radios will be smaller than the ones supporting the operator's lowband spectrum holdings and larger than the ones supporting the operator's highband, millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum holdings.

Small cells and density

Koeppe also discussed Verizon's cell tower strategy for its C-band network buildout. A number of industry analysts have speculated that the operator would need to densify its network with additional cell sites in order to build out a seamless C-band coverage footprint. That's because signals in midband C-band spectrum do not travel as far as signals in lowband spectrum.

However, Koeppe argued that Verizon has been working to densify its network for years as it added spectrum bands including 700MHz and AWS to its 4G network. As a result, he said the operator's network is already dense enough to support a C-band network.

Specifically, Koeppe said that Verizon would be able to cover the "vast majority" of its ultimate C-band buildout target – 250 million people covered by 2024 – using its existing cell site locations. That would eliminate the need for Verizon to purchase more small cell sites to densify its network.

However, for Verizon's mmWave network, the operator has said it plans to add another 13,000 small cells to its network this year in order to raise its total number of small cells in operation to 30,000. The operator said it would continue to expand its mmWave network next year and beyond, though it did not provide any firm figures for that effort.

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

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