Verizon is poised to be the first U.S. carrier to actually sell 5G services to customers. The carrier plans to launch 5G fixed wireless broadband service this year, although it has not yet discussed pricing. Verizon says up to 30 million U.S. homes could use its service as an alternative to fiber, and the first of those will be in Sacramento, CA.
Sacramento residents will be Verizon’s 5G guinea pigs later this year when the carrier launches residential broadband service based on its own version of 5G. The carrier will offer its existing wireless customers 5G home routers that it says will deliver internet and video at speeds comparable to fiber.
California’s capital city does not find itself in this position by accident. Last summer, the city fast-tracked Verizon’s request to access city utility poles for small cells and city conduit for fiber backhaul. Verizon got access to 101 utility poles and several miles of conduit. In return, Verizon is placing Wi-Fi hotspots in 27 Sacramento parks.
Sacramento city officials were willing to give up potential lease payments they could have charged for pole space in exchange for the high-speed wireless service Verizon is offering. The city’s CIO believes the deal with Verizon will bring more technology startups to Sacramento. And the city retained the right to lease space on its utility poles to other carriers down the road.
A cooperative government was not Verizon’s only advantage. It was also a fit for Verizon from a technical perspective because XO Communications owned millimeter wave spectrum licenses in Sacramento, and Verizon now owns XO’s former licenses. Verizon has picked a handful of the cities formerly served by XO to be 5G trial cities, but Sacramento is the only city named so far.
Verizon says that Sacramento and its other 5G trial cities will need to upgrade at some point in order to use the same 5G equipment that will be used elsewhere in the Verizon network.
“We’re deploying those cities using the proprietary standard that we developed a couple of years ago,” explained Verizon CFO Matt Ellis at an investor conference. “It was important that we did that because it pushed the ecosystem along and it pushed the global standards bodies to move faster on 5G than they probably otherwise would have done. It also allowed us to get the product out into the field where we could test it.”
In the test cities, Verizon will deploy 5G using radio heads and customer premise equipment made by Samsung using Verizon’s proprietary 5G standard. Verizon has said it expects the transition to standards-compliant 5G to require a software or firmware upgrade to the radios. The carrier has not said whether or not consumers will need to replace their home routers when they transition to standards-compliant 5G.