Verizon began its preparations for 5G years ago by densifying its 4G LTE network using small cell sites in highly-populated areas. The company’s current fiber-based network — a huge web consisting of 900,000 global fiber route miles as of August 2018 — will deliver data to Verizon’s millimeter (mmWave) 5G small cell sites scattered across the nation. In rural areas, Version will install fiber cable in 1,000-foot intervals.
Overall, Verizon’s 5G rollout plan is the exact opposite of T-Mobile: Sell a fixed in-home 5G-based service first and launch a mobile 5G service sometime thereafter. T-Mobile is focusing on nationwide 5G coverage using long-range LTE Band 71 and two other short-range mmWave bands first, followed by an in-home service at a later date.
While T-Mobile’s 5G service is based on industry standards approved by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project conglomerate (3GPP), Verizon is initially using its proprietary-yet-open 5G TF network standard. Verizon took this route because the company simply didn’t want to wait for the 3GPP 5G NR standard to make it to network equipment, devices, chipsets, and software. Once hardware, software, and equipment arrive using the 3GPP 5G NR standard, Verizon will update its “First on 5G” members for free.
Meanwhile, Verizon’s other big competitor AT&T is pushing to bring mobile 5G to 12 large and mid-sized cities – including Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, and more – in 2018. The company will then increase that coverage to around 19 cities in 2019 and eventually expand its 5G network once it’s established the service in those 19 markets. A home network service is in the works too, which AT&T is currently testing in limited markets like South Bend, Indiana.
The key takeaway from 5G is capacity in addition to faster download speeds. According to Verizon Communications chief executive Hans Vestberg, 4G can handle around 1,000 connected devices per square kilometer whereas 5G can handle one million. Meanwhile, 4G has a latency of around 200 milliseconds whereas 5G goes down to a mere 10 milliseconds.
All that said, here’s what we know about Verizon 5G and what’s to come later.
Verizon 5G uses the 28GHz and 39GHz bands, both of which are high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies. Verizon holds 76 percent of the available 28GHz band and 46 percent of the available 39GHz band. So far there’s no indication Verizon will use LTE Band 71 for long-range 5G coverage like T-Mobile.
Verizon launched its 5G-based home networking service in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento on October 1. The company will build out its 5G coverage using equipment based on the 3GPP 5G NR standard when they become available. According to Verizon, Clayton Harris of Houston, Texas, became the very first 5G customer.
Samsung will provide the initial hardware for Verizon’s in-home service. Depending on the customer’s location, the professionally-installed setup may consist of a compact 5G home and outdoor router, a 5G Radio (Access Unit, Digital Unit-integrated type) and virtualized radio solutions. You’ll also receive a free Apple TV or Google Chromecast device.
According to Verizon, customers will see an average download speed of 300Mbps and a maximum download speed of 940Mbps with no data caps. By comparison, you can get a Charter Spectrum wired connection at 300Mbps for around the same price, but you’ll never see the maximum speed reported by Version.
The company’s in-home service also boasts unlimited data, no annual contracts, no additional fees, no increases, no taxes and no additional equipment charges. It only supports data, meaning you can’t use the in-home service to make cellular calls and send texts. Even more, Verizon claims it won’t throttle data as seen with its current mobile 4G LTE “unlimited” data service.
“In our testing, including rain and windy environments, there have been no indications of typical weather issues affecting 5G Home service,” Verizon states in its FAQ. The comment stems from a common problem seen with millimeter waves, as they can’t easily penetrate buildings and other obstacles. They can also be absorbed by plants and rain. Placing small cell networks throughout the city helps eliminate these barriers.
During the SCWS Americas 2018 wireless connectivity show, Verizon’s Bill Stone said 5G Home connection speeds will double within the next six months. The service currently uses Verizon’s licensed 28GHz spectrum in four 100MHz channels but will eventually expand to eight channels (800MHz).
Real-world testing shows the current download speeds can surpass Verizon’s advertised 300Mbps, hitting 600Mbps and 800Mbps. These tests were conducted by Emil Olbrich, VP of networks at Signals Research Group. He said Verizon already expanded its 5G Home service to six channels at 100MHz each since launch, increasing the initial download and upload speeds. Distance and obstacles seem to have very little effect despite the use of short millimeter waves.
To demonstrate its new in-home 5G Home service, Verizon launched 5G Experience Labs in its four current markets. Although the “labs” remained open for only a week, these experiences provided examples of how gaming and VR will benefit from 5G connectivity. For example, the company teamed up with LiquidSky to showcase high-resolution game streaming on a mobile device paired with a wireless controller. Another demonstration, 5G VR Basketball, enabled players to shoot hoops without seeing the actual, physical hoop.
Finally, Verizon’s 5G mobile service will launch roughly six months after its fixed 5G service.
Current markets include portions of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Verizon will reveal availability in additional markets at a later date.
Plans and prices
The cost of the Verizon 5G Home network service is $70 per month, or $50 per month if you have a separate Verizon Wireless $30 phone plan. There’s no charge for the first three months, and you also get three months of YouTube TV for free. Google’s service will cost $40 per month thereafter.
Verizon has not officially announced any plans and pricing for its mobile 5G service.
Other things we know
Verizon teamed up with Ericsson to use its commercial 5G Radio Access Network software, which will allow Verizon to switch on its 5G network when ready. The software applies to Ericsson’s 5G-ready Ericsson Radio Systems, which now has a bigger footprint in North America thanks to an expanding 4G partnership with Verizon. They reached a milestone in July by deploying Massive MIMO transmissions in Irvine, California.
Verizon and Motorola introduced a the Moto Z3 in August: The Moto Z3. This new smartphone ships with the 5G Moto mod, a snap-on adapter adding 5G connectivity when Verizon flips on the mobile service sometime in 2019.
Voxon Photonics achieved the world’s first holographic communication using Verizon’s 5G network on the Los Angeles Convention Center show floor. The data only traveled 200 feet between Verizon’s booth and Ericsson’s booth, and consisted of a caller’s holographic face in a real-time conference video using an Intel RealSense depth camera.
Verizon acquired Straight Path Communications in February for $3.1 billion in an all-stock transaction. Straight Path owns a large stockpile of 28GHz and 39GHz spectrum Verizon will use for its 5G services. In turn, 20 percent of Straight Path’s 39GHz spectrum was handed back to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) due to a violation of the FCC’s buildout and discontinuance rules. The company also paid a $600 million penalty.
Samsung will launch its first smartphone compatible with Verizon’s 5G network in North America during the first half of 2019. The device will be based on Qualcomm’s upcoming flagship Snapdragon chip with a built-in X50 5G NR modem and antenna modules. It’s supposedly code-named “Bolt,” which is different than the “Beyond” code-names tied to the upcoming Galaxy S10 “ultimate” variants slated for February. This same device may be available at AT&T and T-Mobile as well.
Verizon will introduce a 5G hotspot designed by Inseego Corp in 2019. Both companies revealed the device during Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon summit, showcasing how it can handle a live virtual reality telemedicine demo streamed by Columbia University. The hotspot will be based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chip with a built-in Snapdragon X50 5G modem and antenna modules. It will also include Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi 6 component, which is a newer, easier name to remember than Wireless AX. Verizon did not say when this hotspot will be made available in 2019.