Here’s why Verizon’s CEO lowered the bar for nationwide 5G
Verizon remains on track to launch 5G nationwide sometime in 2020. But, according to the operator’s CEO, don’t expect much from the offering, at least at first.
“In the beginning you’re going to see some improvements. Over time: Dramatic improvements,” Hans Vestberg said Tuesday at a J.P. Morgan investor conference. “In the beginning, it’s going to be small.”
Vestberg explained that Verizon expects “some difference” between nationwide 4G and nationwide 5G. “But we all need to remember how technology works,” he continued, explaining that 4G networks in 2010 provided top speeds of 20 Mbit/s, but today those speeds can reach above 100 Mbit/s. Vestberg indicated Verizon’s nationwide 5G service will improve in the same way.
“We feel that it is so important that when we come up with something it’s high quality and high performance,” he said, adding that “we already have one of the best 4G networks in the world, so that’s what you compete with.”
Vestberg’s hedging is essentially an acknowledgement that the operator cannot possibly offer the same kinds of blazing-fast 5G speeds it offers in some downtown areas on a nationwide basis. But that the operator still needs to have some kind of nationwide 5G strategy. Indeed, AT&T executives offered similar cautionary remarks before the operator launched its own lowband 5G service.
DSS give and take
At issue is the technology that Verizon plans to use to extend its 5G signal nationwide. Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) essentially will allow 4G and 5G users to take turns using the exact same chunk of spectrum in 1 millisecond increments.
This is pretty revolutionary in the wireless world because, in every other G, operators had to simply allocate chunks of spectrum to new generations of wireless technology. That means operators, amid a network transition, would have to dedicate a 5MHz slice of spectrum to 3G and a 5MHz slice of 4G, even if most customers were still on the old 3G network. Now, with DSS, operators will be able to basically share that full slice of spectrum between 4G and 5G, ensuring that none of their network capacity goes to waste.
However, this will still create challenges for Verizon. That’s because Verizon’s current 5G network works on heaps of completely vacant millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. There are no 4G users on that spectrum, so Verizon can dedicate all of its highband, mmWave spectrum to 5G. Verizon’s mmWave 5G network can support blazing-fast speeds beyond 1 Gbit/s.
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