We talk a lot about the 5G race with China, South Korea and Japan. But how are the U.S. carriers faring against each other? AT&T and Verizon threw down the gauntlet for next gen deployment right here in the United States during their third quarter earnings calls.
Verizon’s third quarter was highlighted by installations of its proprietary fixed 5G Home wireless service, and the continued enhancement of the fiber and small cells of its 4G LTE network. Verizon’s fixed wireless service successfully trods upon the turf of cablecos using millimeter wave spectrum to provide in-home Internet at wireline broadband speeds and capacity.
“The initial launch of 5G Home in four markets will lead to a larger rollout in 2019,” said Matthew Ellis, Verizon executive vice president and chief financial officer. “We are gaining valuable insights ahead of the industry that will drive refinements to the customer experience prior to the arrival of global standards-based equipment.”
While 5G is the buzz — the term was used 40 times according to the Seeking Alpha earnings call transcript while LTE was uttered twice — Verizon noted the importance of LTE to the near future. “Our 4G LTE network will continue to be a foundation of our services for many years to come,” Ellis said.
During the quarter, Verizon completed an end-to-end global standards compliant call with a smartphone test device using its network in Minneapolis. “We have said all along that we intend to be first not only in launching the world’s initial 5G commercial product but also the first to deliver true 5G mobility to consumers,” Ellis said.
Ellis said Verizon has been preparing its network for 5G through the deployment of fiber resources, small cells, spectrum and mobile edge computing capabilities. Year-to-date capital spending of $12.0 billion was up from $11.3 billion YTD last year. Capital expenditure for the full year is expected to be between $16.6 billion and $17.0 billion.
“As soon as devices and equipment are available the deployment of our 5G network on the global standard will begin for mobility and residential broadband in the new 5G ultra-wideband era,” Ellis said, “At Verizon, we believe that true 5G requires an ultra-wideband solution, utilizing millimeter wave spectrum to address the full array of use cases that 5G enables.”
In late October, Verizon committed $25 million to build a “technologically advanced wireless network” in the Florida Panhandle as it struggles to recover from Hurricane Michael. 5G technology will be a part of that infrastructure, and Panama City will become one of five announced Verizon 5G cities, joining Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis and Sacramento.
AT&T building on ‘our lead in 5G’
However, AT&T believes it has the lead in 5G, John M. Donovan, CEO AT&T Communications said during the carrier’s Q3 earnings call, and it will be introducing standards-based mobile 5G services in the next few weeks and in parts of a dozen cities by the end of the year. Additionally, the 5G mobile will be deployed in seven more cities in early 2019.
Donovan said the foundation has been put into place by 5G trials that were completed in several cities and the deployment of a fiber network, which will pass 14 million consumers and eight million businesses by mid-2019.
AT&T’s 5G Evolution will be in more than 400 markets by the end of the year with nationwide coverage by mid-2019 and theoretical peak speeds reaching 400 megabits per second. AT&T also plans to launch LTE Licensed Assisted Access in parts of 24 cities by the end of the year, which will be transitioned to 5G and can deliver faster speeds than LTE.
AT&T still plans to use a one-touch tower deployment solution, which combines FirstNet climbs to deploy Band 14 with other spectrum additions, 700 MHz, AWS-3, and WCS on radios that can be upgraded to 5G through a software change.
“We’re climbing towers and adding spectrum all at once. We’re also adding new radio capability, which will enable us to upgrade the tower to 5G, without another tower climb,” Donovan said. “Thanks in part to our FirstNet build, our fallow spectrum is being put into service at a rapid rate. We’re on track to increase the amount of spectrum deployed by nearly 50 percent. This is having a dramatic positive impact on our network.”
So who is leading the “race” to 5G? Joe Madden, Mobile Experts, said comparing AT&T and Verizon is a bit of an apples and oranges situation.
“Verizon is the first to deploy a high-capacity radio network, but the Verizon system does not use the 5G NR format. Instead, Verizon has chosen a proprietary format for fixed wireless access which is not compatible with 5G NR,” Madden said. “AT&T is deploying their first 5G commercial networks later than Verizon, but the AT&T network is compatible with 5G NR. “In my opinion, the AT&T approach is “ahead” of Verizon because they are in a better position to support mobile 5G with their network.
Last February, T-Mobile announced its plan to build out 5G in 30 cities nationwide using its 600 MHz and 28 GHz spectrum by the end of the year. The carrier followed with a multi-year, $3.5 billion contract with Nokia in July to deploy a nationwide network with end-to-end 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) technology, software and services. In September, another contract was signed for 3GPP-compliant 5G NR equipment with Ericsson, also worth $3.5 billion.
“5G will be amazing, and we can’t even imagine all the cool stuff it will bring, just like with our earlier network innovations. That’s why truly mobile 5G has to be nationwide — period, the end,” said T-Mobile CEO John Legere.
T-Mobile expects to deploy 5G in its low-band 600 MHz spectrum across its existing nationwide macro network. “Nationwide Mobile 5G will require both high-band AND broad low-band coverage, and having unused nationwide 600 MHz spectrum means T-Mobile is in an ideal position to deliver,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said.
5G Dual-mode Radios for Sprint, Courtesy of Nokia
Sprint’s Massive MIMO technology is capable of delivering up to 10 times the capacity of current LTE systems and delivering a 5G solution when it deploys the technology next year. This year, Sprint began deploying its Massive MIMO technology in several cities, including Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York where the company plans to launch mobile 5G service starting in the first half of 2019.
Next year, dual-mode radios may usher in the era of 5G wireless communications for Sprint customers. At Mobile World Congress Americas, last Spring, Nokia and Sprint demonstrated a 5G NR connection that used a dual-mode-capable radio and a massive MIMO antenna. The antenna is designed to achieve as much as 3 Gbps peak downlink throughput for a single sector over 5G and LTE simultaneously using Sprint’s radio-frequency (RF) spectrum.
Sprint’s chief technology officer, John Saw, said the company has enough (RF) spectrum to operate LTE and 5G simultaneously on the same radios. Sprint’s extensive spectrum acquisitions at FCC auctions seem to be paying off.