T-Mobile executives have expressed some derisive opinions about the fixed wireless approach to 5G, calling it a “niche” application of next generation technology, among other things. But according to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, the technology offers the carrier an opportunity to expand its TV and broadband internet footprint at a “miniscule” cost.
Speaking at an investor conference on Monday, McAdam said Verizon knew it wasn’t feasible to expand its broadband footprint outside the Washington to Boston corridor with a classic Fios build. And when the AWS-3 spectrum auction popped up on the wireless side, the carrier determined it was cheaper to build out fiber to densify its small cell network to add capacity than it was to buy new airwaves. It was the junction of those two thoughts that helped Verizon hone in on fixed wireless 5G as a way to massively expand its broadband and TV footprint at a minimal cost, McAdam said. Small cells, he added, now cost a “fraction” of what they did even five years ago.
“When you looked at the architecture that you have when you do that and you see the little bit you’d have to do incrementally to be ready for 5G, then you see ‘OK, we could be a significant player for delivering broadband and video over the top over the exactly same network,’” McAdam commented. “Incrementally, the cost is miniscule to be able to address a very large market outside the Washington to Boston corridor. So as we have built that architecture, 5G on a fixed broadband perspective was the best application for us.”
McAdam also observed that pursuing the fixed wireless option helped give Verizon a head start because it didn’t have to wait for the mobile standards to be complete, nor did it have to wait for the technology to make its way into mainstream mobile devices. Instead, Verizon found it could “use basically your home router that you have today, just put some different chips in it … and you are then a broadband provider and a TV provider outside of your franchise footprint.” Verizon is currently working with Intel to lock in that router technology, he said.
While some analysts have raised concerns about the propagation characteristics of the millimeter wave spectrum Verizon is using in its fixed 5G trial program in 11 cities, McAdam indicated new technologies are pushing the limits of what’s expected.
McAdam said Verizon anticipated “less than 1,000 feet of propagation to deliver 1 Gig,” but reported its own field tests and experiments from partners in Korea were yielding “substantially more” propagation.
“You tend to lock in on the design principles from the 2000s because that’s when wireless was sort of exploding,” he said. “Back then you didn’t have MIMO, massive in massive out antenna structure, you didn’t have the computing power to do signal processing that you can do today.” Those advancements, he added, make a big difference.
“We were at 2,000 feet from the receiver in Samsung’s technology park, we were delivering 1.8 gigs,” he recounted. “We said ‘OK, take that truck, drive it around the back side of the building so there is no possible way you will have a direct line of sight.’ (From) 2,000 feet away it delivered 1.4 gigabytes of throughput, and the reason was it took all the different reflections and the computers were able to process it and get the signal back up. ”
While deployment of broadband and TV in urban and suburban markets is a “no-brainer,” McAdam said he’s most excited about the prospect of bringing services to rural communities. Broadband, he said, will be the engine for economic growth for the country for the future.