Verizon CTO Hans Vestberg said that while the carrier will lead with a fixed broadband service from its 5G deployment, the technology will allow Verizon to support many different slices of services, including mobile 5G when its ready. This deployment model is contrary to the mobile-first model being offered by AT&T, which has set an aggressive target of up to a dozen markets covered with mobile 5G networks by the end of this year.
Speaking at this week’s MoffettNathanson 5th Annual Media & Communications Summit in New York City, Vestberg said the equipment the carrier is installing as part of its 5G network is able to handle its fixed wireless and support the 5G New Radio (NR) specification for mobile service. Vestberg explained that thanks to software, fixed services would be just one slice of the carrier’s 5G network plans.
“5G is a technology with a baseband that can handle different use cases at the same time,” Vestberg said. “Fixed wireless is just one slice of our 5G network.” He cited other examples, such as mobility, enterprise mobility services, and private 5G networks. “All are on the same network,” Vestberg explained. “[It’s] not a special network built for fixed. It’s the same baseband. It’s the same software handling different slices.”
Verizon plans to have up to five fixed 5G markets launched by the end of this year. The difference between a mobile and fixed deployment is that a mobile deployment allows for the hand-off of a connection between cell sites so a device can move around a coverage area without losing a connection. This is similar to conventional cellular services. A fixed service does not support the hand-off of a connection, thus limits the movement of a device to a single cell site. This is similar to a Wi-Fi connection.
Vestberg’s comments were tied to a question about the carrier’s initial push to launch a fixed broadband service over its 5G network. He noted that the reason for that initial service was that the carrier has a proprietary platform to support the service that the carrier thinks has an addressable market of around 30 million homes. That fixed broadband product will have a relatively siloed equipment ecosystem and thus not need access to a more open, standards-based ecosystem.
Vestberg said that most of the radio base stations being deployed are software upgradeable to 5G that will allow Verizon to support use cases like fixed 5G, mobile 5G, and enterprise services using most of the same common hardware components.
“Basically everything from the data center up to the access is the same equipment for any of my customers,” Vestberg said, adding that the decision as to what type of access is required by each customer is made at the edge. “If it’s an enterprise customer it could be fiber. If it’s consumer it might be wireless. It might be 4G or 5G in the future. It could be GPON for some.”
Helping to support the business case for the fixed 5G service, Vestberg reiterated that the carrier was seeing network speeds in excess of 1 Gb/s at a distance of up to 2,000 feet from an antenna. He noted that some South Korean operators were seeing similar coverage and performance in testing as well.
AT&T Not Convinced
AT&T’s management has been very vocal in stating it plans to lead with mobile service for its 5G deployment plans. During the company’s earnings call with investors last month, AT&T CFO John Stephens was lukewarm on fixed 5G service. “Our tests show it can be done. We can do it. But we are not as excited about the business case for us as it might be for some,” he said.
Stephens added that what makes the business case tricky is the backhaul part of the equation. For AT&T, which has an extensive fiber network, he said it might be just as effective to give customers fiber to the home rather than outfit them with fixed 5G.
Vestberg said that fiber was indeed an important part of the 5G equation, noting the carrier’s recent push to bolster its fiber support. This includes more than $1 billion in deals last year with Corning and Prysmian Group to supply fiber for the carrier’s densification efforts. But, Verizon does not have as an extensive fiber backbone as AT&T and thus will run that fiber to antennas that can then serve multiple locations.