Heidi Hemmer wasn’t surprised that Verizon’s millimeter-wave-based 5G network performed well in recent 5G benchmark testing by RootMetrics across five U.S. cities. For the carrier’s vice president of network engineering, the testing was instead an affirmation of Verizon’s strategy to base its first 5G deployments on millimeter wave.
RootMetrics reported that during the December round of testing, it recorded one of its top-three U.S. 5G network speeds to date on Verizon’s network: 780.1 Mbps, which was achieved during a test in Chicago.
“It wasn’t unexpected for us,” Hemmer said of Verizon’s fast performance. “We have made a conscious choice to deploy 5G on millimeter wave first. Millimeter wave does give us tremendous speed … as well as capacity. It also does give us some lower latency, especially as we start to evolve the network going forward. That’s really why we chose to use the millimeter wave spectrum that is in our holdings currently, as well as build in places where people gather.”
Hemmer added that by building out mmWave in high-traffic urban areas, Verizon also is able to take advantage of many potential site locations in order to address mmWave’s main shortcoming: its limited propagation, which means the technology needs a greater density of sites to provide coverage. In addition, she said, covering high-profile locations with mmWave 5G showcases its capabilities to support new types of use cases. Hemmer referenced a Super Bowl 5G app which Verizon co-developed with the National Football League.
“I was lucky enough to be able to work the Super Bowl and to be able to use that app while I was doing some of the testing, where I could look at my phone and see five different views of the field and of the sidelines, of the stands,” Hemmer said, adding that there was also an augmented reality feature in the app that, if users pointed their 5G handsets at the field and lined things up properly, real-time stats would be displayed for the players on the field at that time.
“We believe that the use cases for consumers that really makes 5G different, are well-served by that extra speed that mmWave gives us as well as the additional capacity,” Hemmer added.
She also said that Verizon is continuing its densification work in the 31 5G markets that it launched during 2019 and the three additional markets that it has launched so far in 2020. In Chicago, where Verizon launched service last April, Hemmer said that Verizon now has four times the number of 5G nodes that it started with. Verizon expects to double its number of 5G markets this year from 2019.
Asked about the coverage of mmWave 5G, Hemmer said that “You can’t have great 5G without having great 4G. … If you have a 5G phone that is provisioned for Ultra Wideband and you step out of the coverage area, you won’t get those Ultra Wideband speeds, but you’ll continue to be on the most reliable network.” She added that as Verizon has been building out 5G sites, “we are often touching 4G nodes as well, and adding additional spectrum and capacity to them, so that our 4G network continues to improve.”
Verizon is approaching its nationwide strategy for 5G just as consciously as its choice of an initial mmWave launch, Hemmer said: to wait for Dynamic Spectrum Sharing rather than dedicate any of its low-band spectrum solely to 5G.
“We didn’t want to carve out a piece of our spectrum holdings and dedicate it 5G, we want to be able to dynamically share that band across our large 4G embedded base and our 5G customers,” she said, adding that DSS is expected to be up and running this year and Verizon is working with its network and device vendors now on the technology. However, she did point out that while DSS will improve Verizon’s 5G coverage by leveraging low-band spectrum, the DSS-enabled 5G speeds will look more like its 4G LTE performance than its mmWave 5G.
Hemmer expects Verizon to continue to boost its overall network speeds and capabilities — and even those already-fast 5G mmWave speeds. She referenced a recent test on the carrier’s live 5G network, conducted with Samsung, Motorola Mobility and Qualcomm, that utilized eight component-carrier carrier aggregation (an aggregated 800 megahertz of spectrum in the 28 GHz band) and achieved more than 4 Gbps on an upcoming Motorola smartphone. Verizon says 8CC will be widely available on its 5G network this year.
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