Tag Archives: verizon

Race to 5G is ready to go, but don’t be distracted by false starts

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The easiest way to win the race to 5G is to simply declare victory. It’s what mobile carriers did a decade ago with 4G, and what they’re doing now. That’s causing confusion, as an editorial by FierceWireless’ Monica Alleven describes…

One of the problems with defining 5G is, practically speaking, there’s no single judge currently determining what is or isn’t 5G. Is it ITU’s job, or 3GPP’s? Mostly, it’s the individual marketing departments at carriers and vendors, or “all of the above"…

Verizon is probably the most justified to date to actually call its 5G Home service a 5G service. It’s not using equipment built on 3GPP’s 5G standard, it’s using the Verizon Technical Forum specification for 5G. But it’s close enough to pass the test for most in-the-know analysts, and we’re told it’s a relatively easy upgrade to the real deal when that’s ready. (That’s not to say that I think Verizon’s fixed wireless access version of 5G is really all that mind-blowing. It’s not. But that’s a different discussion.)

Verizon’s proto–5G fixed wireless service is still just a test bed. The technology is intended as an upgrade to mobile networks, even though it can serve as a platform for fixed wireless too. But it’s nearly there and, as Alleven points out, Verizon should get credit for it.

Other carriers are jumping in as well, with marketing claims that are running ahead of the state of the art. AT&T laid down a notorious smokescreen last year, when it pasted its “5G Evolution” branding on its 4G network.

T-Mobile has hung back a bit so far, but keep an eye on them: it’ll be easy for them to dust off their 4G playbook and run the same deception again. Back when all they had was a 3G network, the marketing department decided it was so excellent that it should be called 4G too.

T-Mobile’s 3G service was good then. So is AT&T’s 4G network now. But that doesn’t justify a phoney promotion to the next generation of technology. Policy makers – at the federal, state and local level – have a lot of work ahead of them, to prepare for the day that true 5G mobile networks are deployed, 5G phones are on the market and customers – of all kinds – get the full benefit of the technology.

It’s urgent work, but not the crisis that mobile companies often make it out to be.

5g, of a sort, coming to “parts of” two Californian cities in October

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Verizon grabbed what media spotlight was shining yesterday at the opening of the second Mobile World Congress Americas show in Los Angeles. Its announcement that it would be first to market with 5G fixed wireless service wasn’t a surprise – it’s been talking about it for months – but putting a price tag and a launch date on it makes it much more real. Whether it’s really a big deal or not is a matter of how you look at it.

Mobile customers can add the fixed Verizon service to their accounts for $50 a month, standalone subscriptions are $70 a month. Verizon says users “should expect typical network speeds around 300 Mbps” with no data caps (although a mobile carrier’s definition of a data cap and yours is probably different – as the Santa Clara County Fire Department found out). The new service will be available “in parts of” Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis and Houston, beginning next month.

A very limited, fixed service-only roll out of 5G service gains two things for Verizon: a day or two of media buzz, and a test platform for 5G service, of a sort. The fixed wireless gear they’ll be installing (a service call is required) isn’t fully compliant with the official 5G spec, and will have to be replaced when the real stuff is available sometime next year. But it’s a legitimate beta test with actual customers, and that could give Verizon an operational and marketing edge down the road.

The announcement also helps to let some of the hot air out of the 5G balloon. Earlier this year, Verizon hyped 1 Gbps throughput, which it still claims is the “peak” speed for its 5G fixed service. There’s no reason to doubt that 5G networks can support gigabit throughputs, but that’s a long way from consistently delivering it to customers. Dialling expectations back to 300 Mbps is a good move.

Fiber can compete, but no competition, no fiber

by Steve Blum • , ,

Fiber-to-the-home broadband service can effectively compete against cable company offerings, but copper-based DSL service can’t. That’s a lesson that’s coming into sharp focus as telcos report 2017 financial results.

Verizon backed away from legacy telephone service, selling its California systems to Frontier among other things, but hung on to its FiOS business, which is concentrated in the northeastern U.S. As a result, Frontier is bleeding DSL subscribers (although it’s doing better where it offers FTTH service), while Verizon’s share of broadband subscribers in its FiOS territory is climbing.

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference, Matt Ellis, Verizon’s chief financial officer, said gains from its fiber-based broadband service even offsets declines in its video business…

We’re above 40% penetration on broadband where we have FiOS deployed…So if a customer decides to cut the cord on the video piece, I’m not getting the video revenue anymore, but I also have a significant cost component that goes away too and when those customers decide to cut the cord and rely on [the Internet] for their video entertainment, the quality of their broadband connection becomes even more important.

Verizon and AT&T posted overall broadband subscriber gains in the first nine months of 2017 – the only two major telcos to do so – despite losing a combined 172,000 DSL subs. Fiber to the home service was the reason.

As subscribers continue to dump DSL in favor of DOCSIS-based service from cable companies, telcos will invest in upgrading copper plant and/or replacing it with fiber. But only where there’s 1. competitive pressure to do so and 2. a sufficiently affluent target market. The absence of both is why AT&T and Frontier are heading rapidly in the opposite direction in rural California. Where there’s no cable service and effective competition is lacking, they are shutting down their DSL business and installing low capacity fixed wireless systems.

Where there’s no competition, there’s no need to invest in competitive service.

Verizon’s Sacramento 5G deal is about R&D and politics now, mobile service later

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The City of Sacramento’s 5G deployment deal with Verizon will expand the broadband service choices consumers have by a little bit, and pave the way for faster mobile service in the future.

The deal allows Verizon to use city assets to install what will initially be an experimental 5G network that’ll provide fixed service, presumably into homes and businesses, in competition with AT&T and Comcast. But it’s immediate value is as a development project, with technical and political benefits.

It’s no coincidence that the company chose California’s capital city. Verizon was one of the main backers of senate bill 649, which was approved by legislators but was vetoed by governor Jerry Brown. In his veto message, he said he was looking for “a more balanced solution”, which guarantees it’ll be back next year. SB 649 would have given mobile carriers at-will access to city and county-owned property, such as light poles and traffic signals, at below market rates. During legislative hearings, Verizon offered lawmakers rides around Sacramento in its 5G demo van, and generally made its presence known. The deal reached with Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg, a termed-out but formerly high profile state senator, will help keep Verizon top of mind at the capitol.

Leading off with fixed service allows Verizon to test 5G technology while it is still in the development stage. It can deploy a limited amount of network equipment based on the recently finalised initial set of 5G specifications without having to worry about full mobile coverage. Same with customer premise equipment. It’ll be a while before 5G mobile phones are widely available to consumers, but Verizon will have no problem sourcing and installing early and limited versions of gear that’ll support fixed service.

The deal puts Sacramento first in line for true, mobile 5G service, as it launches on a full commercial basis over the next few years. When and where that build out happens will depend to a great degree on both the political and technical results.

Swat away state broadband laws, Verizon tells FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Verizon doesn’t like it when states pass laws that affect its business, and now it wants the Federal Communications Commission to simply sweep those annoying rules away with a single, blanket preemption.

In a white paper filed with the FCC, Verizon points to ongoing efforts in California, and several other states, to re-impose Internet privacy rules that were overturned earlier this year by the federal government. It also fears that states will try to reinstate net neutrality requirements, and other common carrier obligations that the FCC is likely to scrap in the coming months.

The white paper offers excruciatingly detailed arguments about why the FCC has the authority to take any and all broadband regulation out of states’ hands, but it boils down to treating it as a purely interstate service…

The Commission can ensure nationwide uniformity for interstate services by preempting state and local laws that interfere with its exclusive jurisdiction over such services and are inconsistent with federal policies for those services, including federal polices providing for less regulation. The Commission has a long history of setting a deregulatory policy for an interstate service and preempting state and local laws that threaten to impede that policy, and courts have consistently upheld these exercises of the Commission’s preemptive power.

This latest move at the FCC is running parallel with an overhaul of wireless permitting rules, that’s also expected to result in less state and local discretion regarding issuing permits for building cell towers or other wireless infrastructure.

Verizon wants the FCC to include this overarching preemption in what is expected to be a reversal of its 2015 order classifying broadband as a common carrier service, which could come as soon as next month. Even if this kind of blanket preemption isn’t rolled into the common carrier decision, though, the concept will find willing ears among commissioners. It’s a good bet that we haven’t seen the last of it.

G.fast isn’t so gee whiz compared to fiber, Verizon exec says

by Steve Blum • , , ,

G.fast technology, which in theory allows telcos to push gigabit speeds over existing copper wire, isn’t a good substitute for fiber upgrades, according to Verizon’s director of network planning. Vincent O’Byrne, quoted in an article by Sean Buckley in FierceTelecom, said that even in multi-tenant office buildings or apartments, it’s more cost effective to install fiber all the way to the customer, than it is to bring fiber in or near a building and then use G.fast to close the gap…

“It’s a bit more expensive to put the single family unit fiber connections out there, but we have the same kind of service as the rest of the network,” O’Byrne said. “We also found that the trouble report rate is less on the fiber all the way to the living unit.”

“At Verizon we were finding the trouble reports on the copper were two to three times more than when we had fiber to the living unit,” O’Byrne said. “For a long time, the copper plant in the Verizon network was not as good as it was in some locations so if we went to G.fast it would be low volume and we would have the same issues five years down the road.”

Of course, if Verizon maintained its copper plant, instead of letting it rot on the poles and then selling it off, as it did in California, some of these issues might not have come up. But it’s true that copper circuits carrying G.fast traffic need to be relatively pristine in order to work over any real distance. If a lot of work is needed, there’s not much of a cost difference between refurbishing copper and replacing it with fiber.

Rapid and constant changes in technology are also a problem. O’Byrne said that as equipment hits end-of-life, it can’t always be replaced with compatible gear, and the mix of different generations of technology can be costly to maintain and difficult to support.

Verizon buys enough fiber to reach Mars, sorta

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Make it quick.

Verizon is pumping up the volume about its three year deal with Corning to spend $1.05 billion on “fiber optic cable and associated hardware”. It even got a congratulatory (and self-congratulatory) press release from Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai. As it should It’s a big commitment and will add a considerable amount of potential bandwidth to the U.S. supply.

Verizon also claims that it will be buying “up to” 20 million kilometers (12.4 million miles, it helpfully adds) of “optical fiber” each year, from 2018 through 2020. That’s enough optical fiber to wrap around the Earth almost 1,500 times. It could circle the Sun almost 100 times. It’s even enough optical fiber to build a middle mile line from Earth to Mars. Until it snaps off a few minutes after closest approach, anyway.

It is truly a big deal, but not as big a deal as a quick glance might lead you to believe. Verizon is careful to distinguish between “optical fiber”, which is a strand of glass, and “fiber optic cable”, which is a bundle of optical fibers. Cables come in many sizes, but 432-strands are typical for mobile carriers these days. Cables with 864 strands are not unheard of, and 288 is probably as small as you’re likely to see from them (granted, there are unlikely builds out there). But let’s say 432 strands.

That implies a build of 29,000 miles a year, or 87,000 miles total. At a total cost of $1.05 billion and allowing a bit for “associated hardware”, that comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 a foot, which is in the volume discount ballpark for 432-strand cable. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but in round numbers it looks like Verizon is planning to build something like 80,000 to 100,000 miles of fiber plant over the next three years.

That’s a lot of backhaul, and a lot of cell sites.

Verizon fires up mid-tier IoT network

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Making good on a promise, Verizon says it is rolling out wireless Internet of things (IoT) service nationally. During the CTIA show in Las Vegas last year, a Verizon representative said that the LTE M1 standard would be deployed throughout its U.S. network by April. Verizon beat that deadline by a day, saying in a press release that as of yesterday, it was launching…

The first nationwide commercial 4G LTE Category M1 (or Cat M1) network, which spans 2.4 million square miles. This is the first and only Cat M1 network providing scale, coverage and security for customers seeking wireless access solutions for IoT. Verizon’s Cat M1 network is built on a virtualized cloud environment which enables rapid and agile IoT solution deployment and nationwide scaling aimed at increasing IoT adoption for developers and businesses with new and more economical IoT data plans.

Service pricing starts at $2 for 200 KB per month, and scales up to $80 for 10 GB. IoT – also known as machine-to-machine or M2M – applications can be very parsimonious with bandwidth, so the low end package could be enough to support basic functionality for, say, an environmental monitor or on/off control for remote devices such as security lights or a heating/cooling system.

LTE M1 technology is a cut down version of regular LTE. The next rev will be the LTE NB1 standard – NB as in narrow band – which will be aimed at the ultra low power, ultra low bandwidth end of the market that’s currently targeted by the LoRa and Sigfox systems.

M1 equipment needs to be plugged in or recharged relatively frequently, ultra low power/bandwidth devices are designed to run off a small battery for a year or more. Both standards will find uses. For example, it might make perfect sense to pay $2 a month to control an electric irrigation pump with an always-available M1 connection, but the thousand or so soil and temperature sensors scattered around a field that support that pump can get by with much cheaper occasional 12 byte bursts, the kind of payloads that the ultra-low systems can deliver.

NB1 deployments could begin this year, but are more likely to go mainstream in 2018.

Verizon threatens to end NYC FiOS service over lawsuit

by Steve Blum • , , ,

New York City is suing Verizon for failing to build out fiber to the home service to all residences as promised and Verizon might retaliate by yanking out television service citywide. And stroppy landlords are making it a three-cornered fight.

Like any legal dispute that’s measured in billions of dollars, it’s a complicated affair. But one of the central issues is Verizon’s problems with getting access to apartment buildings and condos – multi-dwelling units (MDUs).

Landlords have not been particularly cooperative. Whether it’s because they have profitable arrangements with other video service providers or they think they can get something out of Verizon or they’re simply being obstinate, they’re preventing a million households from getting FiOS service. At least as Verizon tells it.

As the city sees it, though, Verizon is playing a game. If one landlord blocks access to his property and there are apartment buildings behind it, none of them get FiOS upgrades (h/t to Ars Techica for the documents)…

Verizon’s current position, as stated in correspondence and meetings with the City, is that fulfilling the “premises passed” obligation does not, with respect to a given premises, necessarily involve running fiber immediately in front of or behind the premises. Rather, Verizon has asserted, it should be deemed to have “passed” an individual building if it has run fiber to a nearby intersection and could access the building with further deployment of fiber. In particular, with respect to MDUs, Verizon has argued that an MDU should count as “passed” as long as Verizon intends eventually to run fiber to it, not directly from the street, but rather through an adjacent MDU or a chain of such MDUs, whether or not Verizon has obtained access to any of the MDUs from the property owners.

Verizon responded by saying, in effect, we were so simpatico with New York City that we didn’t have put all that in writing, and threatening to leave the market

Verizon has the option of opening negotiations for a renewal of the Agreement in July. Unfortunately, the City’s intransigence does not create a favorable environment for such negotiations. We would urge the City not to make it impossible for Verizon to continue to provide New York City residents with a competitive alternative to cable TV.

It’s certainly true that landlords can and do block access to competitive broadband companies. San Francisco has taken a different approach and outlawed the practice. That’s yet to be tested in court, though.

Verizon could close a big competitive gap with Charter’s fiber

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Verizon needs to build more than 100,000 new cell sites and add more fiber connectivity to close a capacity gap with its U.S. competitors, according to a report from New Street Research. And, the report concludes, buying Charter Communications – as rumors say it might – could help solve some of Verizon’s problems. It wouldn’t be much benefit to Charter, though.

The report estimates that when the number of cell sites and the amount of spectrum used is taken into consideration, Verizon has a bit more than half of the capacity per subscriber that AT&T and T-Mobile have. In order to catch up, Verizon would have to build 69,000 new macro – traditional, big – cell sites, or 138,000 or more small cell sites. New Street estimates that if small cells are properly located to reach high concentrations of subscribers, it would only take two to replace a big cell site. To fully cover the same geographic area, though, the ratio is more like ten to one.

Those sites would all need back haul, of course, which is where Charter comes in. Verizon still has some wireline assets of its own, but Charter’s footprint is much bigger and U.S. cable companies have more fiber – and more easily accessed fiber – than telcos. “Cable has much greater fiber density than their wireline competitors”, the report says. “To put this in perspective, the Cable industry has 320,000 nodes today, the vast majority of which are fed with fiber. By contrast, telecom carriers have 23,000 fiber fed central offices”.

So a cable acquisition would be an advantage for Verizon. From Charter’s perspective, the benefits aren’t clear. New Street discounts speculation that a cable-mobile merger would reduce churn, concluding that Verizon’s is a low as it can go and there’s no hard evidence that it would have much more than a marginal impact on Charter’s.

The report makes several other good points about the cable and mobile sectors, and telecoms in general, and is worth reading. New Street’s top line conclusion is that an acquisition is less likely than originally thought, and “our working hypothesis is that it will be very tough for Verizon to structure a deal that Charter will find compelling”.