Verizon 5G Cells Before and after 2305G is not going to be an expensive network build, according to Verizon, NTT DOCOMO, France Telecom, and Qualcomm. The latest data come from Qualcomm, the only company able to demonstrate a mobile phone sized set of chips. Qualcomm simulations, based on data from several test trials, show existing towers can cover two-thirds of most cities.“Based on our extensive over-the-air testing and channel measurements, significant outdoor coverage  (> 65%) is possible utilizing actual existing LTE sites. The 65% coverage figure is outdoor only. mmWave is blocked by some wall/windows and passes through others. Verizon is using outdoor antennas but hopes to allow customer self-installs indoor. 

Upgrading existing cells first drastically brings down costs. Verizon and I believe AT&T are choosing to do most mmWave from existing cells. The illustration is from a Verizon presentation. It shows a dense area where fewer cells are needed in 5G. In areas like this, the greater capacity of the new tech allows shutting down cells. Verizon hasn't given us enough data to know what percent of the network can have fewer cells. They certainly will not be able to reduce the number in rural areas, where they are needed for coverage. 

Small cells will continue to be built where capacity is needed. They are a relatively cheap way to serve high demand areas. But Verizon will not need the hundreds of thousands of new cells I and many others once expected.  

By the second phase of the rollout, 2023 or 2024, CEO Hans Vestberg predicts equipment costs will be far less, as is typical for telecom equipment. He expects to cover "the entire country" by 2018. 

I'm 90% sure Verizon is on target on costs. They have data from thousands of cells active, far more than any other company. CEO Hans Vestberg of Verizon, CTO Seizo Onoe of NTT DOCOMO  both have said 5G will not raise carrier investment significantly, at least in the next few years, The politicians and salesmen who say otherwise are almost certainly wrong, including FCC Chair Ajit Pai, BNetzA chair Jochen Homann, or OFCOM's Sharon White. Carriers and their lobbyists are making ridiculous claims. For example, Deutsche Telecom estimates its costs to be a multiple of what Verizon is spending - for a better network. 

Indoor performance varies widely depending on the type of walls and windows. Verizon initially will install outdoor antennas. Going forward, Verizon many customers will be able to . CEO Lowell McAdam early this year promised a gigabit for all. In September, the official announcement instead offers “300 megabits to a gigabit.”

It could probably fall back to the better indoor performance of 4G in many locations. The U.S. carriers are deploying “Gig LTE” across the country. That merges three to five spectrum bands using carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO antennas, and 256 QAM improved coding. “Gig LTE” has peak speeds up to 1.5 gigabits and realistically delivers 100-500 megabits.

Most 5G is mid-band: 4G hardware with NR software, only a modest improvement. (Speeds often 100-400 megabits.) Verizon is the only large carrier promising gigabit mmWave.  


dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 


 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.