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Verizon Says 5G Speeds in Rural Areas Will be Similar to 4G PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 07:45


The hype around 5G has focused on speed improvements expected on millimeter-wave spectrum, which wasn't previously used on mobile broadband networks. But 5G on lower-spectrum bands will be like "good 4G," Verizon Consumer Group CEO Ronan Dunne said at Oppenheimer's annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference.

Telecom Review North America recently attended the Oppenheimer Technology Conference and received Mr Dunne’s overview to get a better perspective on these speeds for our readers.

"While we can deploy and we will deploy a 5G nationwide offering, the lower down the spectrum tiers you go, the more that will approximate to a good 4G service," Dunne said. "The truth is, we have a very good 4G LTE service in parts of the US where our competitors don't. So, if someone else is rushing to bring out 5G nationwide, it may be because they don't have credible 4G LTE coverage in those areas to start with."

Dunne's comments seem at least partly aimed at T-Mobile, which has been claiming Verizon doesn't have a real 5G strategy outside the millimeter-wave bands. T-Mobile will get no shortage of mid-band spectrum if it's able to complete the acquisition of Sprint, which has plenty of 2.5GHz spectrum. T-Mobile CEO John Legere argues that this mid-band spectrum will be a crucial complement to millimeter waves and the low-band spectrum used by current 4G networks.

Low-band generally refers to spectrum below 1GHz. Millimeter waves are technically 30GHz and above, but carriers have also been using the millimeter-wave moniker for spectrum above 20GHz.

Each carrier obviously wants to make its own spectrum seem better than its competitors' holdings. Verizon is strong in low-band and millimeter-wave spectrum, but it has less in the mid-band range, and that affects how its executives discuss the prospect of 5G on the different spectrum bands.

Verizon's comments square with basic science. Mobile networks can produce higher speeds in millimeter-wave bands because there's more spectrum available in that part of the frequency range. But millimeter waves don't travel as far as low- and mid-band waves and are easily blocked by walls and other obstacles, making them unsuitable for widespread coverage. T-Mobile and Verizon both previously confirmed that millimeter-wave networks will primarily be for dense urban environments, which means the biggest speed gains of 5G won't come to rural areas.

The expected reality of 5G in rural and suburban areas stands in stark contrast to the hype stoked by carriers and Republican government officials who are seeking more industry deregulation. The Federal Communications Commission preempted local regulation and fees related to small cells last year, claiming that 5G is so "transformative" that cities and towns shouldn't be allowed to decide how much to charge carriers for access to public rights-of-way or to impose certain kinds of aesthetic requirements on network deployments. The 5G hype has been helped along by media outlets breathlessly repeating claims that 5G will fundamentally change everything from health care to education.

More spectrum, more speed

As Dunne noted the amount of spectrum in each band will play a huge role in determining the speeds available over 5G. The more spectrum you have, "the more of the features and capabilities of 5G that you can enable," Dunne said.

“We want to have both a coverage strategy and a capability strategy, and a very large majority of the volume of data that we carry on our networks goes to large, dense urban environments. From a population point of view, [big cities have] significantly less than half of customers, but from a data traffic point of view, it's significantly more than half. When it comes to the ability to use 5G as a significant capacity enhancement, there's more of an opportunity to leverage that in urban areas, Dunne noted.

Verizon will "have millimeter-wave in the majority of places where data is used," Dunne said, though he was apparently just referring to big urban areas.