Although 5G millimeter wave spectrum has experienced a bit of a backlash in recent months, one carrier that is still gung ho about the spectrum band is Verizon. Millimeter wave spectrum “opens up so many possibilities,” said Verizon Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Kyle Malady at an investor conference today.
Just a year or two ago, millimeter wave was virtually synonymous with 5G. The latest-generation wireless technology was designed to support speeds of a gigabit or more, along with lower-latency and other characteristics – but getting the highest speeds requires wide swaths of spectrum that are nearly impossible to come by in frequency bands traditionally used for cellular service. Wide swaths of spectrum are available in high-frequency millimeter wave bands – the downside is that range is not as great as with lower-frequency bands.
5G pioneers AT&T and Verizon used millimeter wave for their initial deployments, but as Sprint and T-Mobile get into the game or make plans to do so, they have touted their ability to quickly cover broad areas by using lower-frequency spectrum, although that didn’t stop T-Mobile from spending more than $842 million to obtain millimeter wave spectrum in the recent auctions. Likewise, AT&T and Verizon have said they expect to deploy 5G in lower-frequency bands as well as in the millimeter wave band.
Verizon 5G Millimeter Wave
Nevertheless, Verizon executives get most fired up when they talk about the millimeter wave band.
Malady offered an interesting data point to support his millimeter wave enthusiasm. Before obtaining millimeter wave spectrum through the acquisition of Straight Path, Verizon had amassed licenses for an average of 160 MHz of spectrum in all bands nationwide. In comparison, the company used four segments, apparently each comprised of 100 MHz, for a total of 400 MHz of millimeter wave spectrum to support its initial mobile 5G launches in Chicago and Minneapolis. And according to Malady, “we’re working on bringing [that] to eight” segments.
Malady didn’t discuss the speeds Verizon is experiencing with mobile service, but he noted that some customers are obtaining gigabit speeds using fixed wireless 5G service in the millimeter wave band, which Verizon has launched in four markets. And AT&T has said it has seen speeds of 1.2 Gbps in mobile 5G trials using a 400 MHz channel over a distance of 150 meters.
Millimeter wave distance limitations are driving a change in network topology, Malady noted. “As the network [becomes] flattened, the antennas [are] smaller and lower,” he explained. “Wireless becomes fiber with antennas hanging off of it.”
As Verizon builds out more fiber to support this model, the fiber also can be used by the company’s other business units, he added.
There may be one additional requirement before 5G can reach its full potential, and Malady discussed that as well. He pointed to the example of police using facial recognition to help find an abducted person by comparing a photo with numerous public cameras, then identifying the closest officer to the abductee’s location. Applications such as that will require processing power located closer to the network edge.
“The cloud will go closer and closer and closer,” he said.
Malady made his comments at the Wells Fargo Telecom 5G Forum, which was also webcast.