Verizon prepping to deliver residential broadband using 5G fixed wireless access in 2018

U.S. operators in 2017 carried out extensive tests of the pre-standard, non-standalone 5G fixed wireless access variant, and Verizon, building on field trials, is planning a commercial deployment in the second-half of next year. Let’s take a look back at some of the standard and trial activity that took place this year.

On the heels of Mobile World Congress, telecom standardization body 3GPP held a plenary meeting in Croatia where members agreed to accelerate the schedule for establishing the non-standalone 5G New Radio specification for delivery of enhanced mobile broadband, one of three primary 5G use cases. The other two are massive support for the internet of things and mission critical communications. According to 3GPP, “In non-standalone mode the connection is anchored in LTE while 5G NR carriers are used to boost data rates and reduce latency.”


Fast forward to this week and 3GPP members are meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, to likely finalize the 5G NR non-standalone specification. To draw the distinction, the non-standalone version uses LTE radios and cores, while the standalone version, tracking for completion mid-2018, includes full user and control plane functions based on a new, 5G NR architecture.

Back to 5G fixed wireless access. This particular deployment model was drawn significant operator interest because it essentially solves the last mile problem with fiber. Instead of running expensive fiber to individual homes and businesses, high-capacity millimeter wave radio sites can deliver broadband speeds in excess of 1 Gbps to multiple homes or businesses. Further, the fixed wireless deployment model allows operators to get key learnings about millimeter wave propagation while laying the groundwork for mobilization–network infrastructure could be added to the same sites allowing them to serve fixed and mobile use cases, which is a big boon to the 5G business case.

In August, AT&T expanded 5G fixed wireless access trials from Austin to include locations in Waco, Texas, Kalamazoo, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana. In Austin, where AT&T Labs has a large research facility, the operator conducted trials that included multiple-dwelling units, small businesses and an enterprise office. Using millimeter wave frequencies, AT&T studied the impact of foliage, building materials, UE placement and other environmental impacts on RF propagation. The tests yielded throughput in the 1 Gbps ballpark and latency below 10 milliseconds.

Prior to this round of testing, AT&T worked with Ericsson and Intel using spectrum in the 15 GHz and 28 GHz bands, to test enterprise 5G applications at an Intel office. That trial focused on enterprise apps including internet access, virtual private net-work connections, 4K video stream-ing, delivery of DirecTV and VoIP. The field trial extended lab testing in several frequency bands and involved not only Ericsson, but also Samsung and Nokia.

In an analysis conducted earlier this year, SNS Research projected that 5G fixed wireless access will drive $1 billion in service revenue by 2019, and see a compound annual growth rate of more than 80% from 2019 to 2025, “eventually accounting for more than $40 billion,” according to the research firm.

According to the report, 5G fixed wireless access “can reduce the initial cost of establishing last-mile connectivity by as much as 40%,” compared to FTTP, and “can significantly accelerate rollout times by eliminating the need to lay cables.”

Throughout this year, Verizon has tested 5G fixed wireless access in 11 U.S. markets, which the company said included “several hundred cell sites that cover several thousand customer locations.

Last week Verizon CFO Matthew Ellis told an investor conference the company’s 5G trials using millimeter wave spectrum are exceeding expectations in “commercial-type tests.” He said spectrum propagation has been better than expected. “The distance that we see that you can get over gigabit speeds, north of 2,000 feet, is part of the economics of the business case,” Ellis said, adding that it is still too soon to be certain about how far signals will travel in all scenarios. “There was a lot of questions going into it, and I think there’s still different people with different views in the larger ecosystem around the overall propagation,” he said.

Given the promising results of those tests, Verizon says it will use that technology to deliver residential broadband services in three to five markets next year. The carrier will make the commercial service available first in Sacramento, Calif., during the second half of 2018.

In terms of use cases, Verizon specifically named broadband, mobile and IoT, along with applications including 3D and virtual reality. According to the carrier, “the market opportunity for initial 5G broadband services [is]approximately 30 million households nationwide.”

Verizon President of Global Networks and Chief Technology Officer Hans Vestberg called it a “landmark announcement for customers and investors who have been waiting for the 5G future to become a reality. We appreciate our strong ecosystem partners for their passion and technological support in helping us drive forward with 5G industry standards, for both fixed and mobile applications. The targeted initial launches we are announcing today will provide a strong framework for accelerating 5G’s future deployment on the global standards.”


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