Verizon isn’t shy when it comes to stating its intention to be the first operator in the U.S. to deploy 5G. Verizon announced late last year that it would launch its own pre-standard 5G fixed wireless service in three to five markets in the U.S. this year. And at this year’s CES 2018 show in Las Vegas, the company’s CTO Hans Vestberg boldly proclaimed that the company will be the first with 5G.
But why is it so important for the company to be first with 5G? In an interview with SDxCentral at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, Spain, Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s chief network officer, said that being first gives the operator a big advantage. “We believe that when you are out first with the technology you gain an advantage and the others don’t really catch up,” she said. “That’s what happened with 4G.” The company launched its 4G LTE network in late 2010 in 38 markets across the U.S. Competitor AT&T launched its LTE network the following year.
Palmer said that the advantage is not just about getting the technology deployed in the lab but getting the company’s engineers to learn how to deploy 5G on a bigger scale. She said that in the 11 test markets around the U.S. where Verizon has launched “friendly” 5G trials, there are about 200 5G nodes on the air giving the engineers experience with the technology.
“It gets our engineer’s hands dirty and allows us to work the process,” she said. “This is our secret sauce.”
In particular, Palmer said that these types of friendly user tests in different markets provide the opportunity for different members of Verizon’s engineering team to learn about 5G instead of just one main engineering group. “We have our field engineers involved with 5G in several places around the U.S. so people know how millimeter wave works,” Palmer noted. “They know how to site it and work with municipalities to describe it.”
Knowing how to work with municipalities on these millimeter wave (mmWave) cell sites is particularly critical because the company will need hundreds of additional cell sites in urban areas for 5G to work.
According to a recent Denver Post article, Verizon has installed 50 of these 30-foot small cell towers in central Denver this year, and has won permits to install about 175 more. Denver is one of Verizon’s 11 5G test markets that it announced last year. The company has said that Sacramento, Calif., will be its first commercial 5G market, but so far hasn’t named the other three or four markets that it expects to be live this year.
Unlike traditional 3G or 4G cellular networks that use lower band spectrum, 5G networks that are being built by Verizon and AT&T will incorporate mmWave spectrum, which is higher in the spectrum band in the 28 GHz and 38 GHz range. These spectrum bands can transmit very large amounts of data because of the amount of available spectrum, but only for short distances. Because of these constraints, the cellular network will rely on these smaller 30-foot towers rather than the bigger and geographically dispersed cellular towers used in 3G and 4G to carry the signals.
An example of a Verizon 30-foot cell site tower in Denver at 1223 Humbolt Street.