Is Verizon's 5G home broadband real 5G? The company defends early rollout
Interested in the service? It'll remain extremely limited until 2019.
Roger ChengFormer Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
That's because Verizon skipped a few steps on its way to declaring that it's the first carrier to 5G.
Immediately after the company announced last month that its service ($50 for Verizon Wireless customers, $70 for everyone else) was finally coming, the criticism poured in. The company's service doesn't run on the industry-agreed standard for what 5G looks like. Because of that, the commercial deployment this year -- in neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Dallas and Indianapolis -- would be extremely limited.
Ed Chan, Verizon's chief technology architect, said the company plans to expand availability of the home broadband service next year, when it's able to adopt the industry standard technology. For now, the commercial deployment will remain small.
"We didn't want to drive too big of an area," Chan said in an interview Monday.
The limited deployment of 5G stands in stark contrast to the launch of 4G in 2008, when 70 percent of the 38 markets to get the service were able to pick up the then-next-generation network. That Verizon was so keen to declare victory in the 5G race underscores the growing hype and interest over the new next-generation technology.
Watch this: Don't hold your breath for Verizon 5G Home service
Chan defends Verizon against the claims that its technology isn't real 5G, noting that its 5G TF (Technical Forum) proprietary standard was necessary to push the industry forward in developing the technology. The company's work jump-started the ecosystem and got people thinking about the applications for 5G sooner than expected.
"If we hadn't taken this step, we'd still be looking at 2020 in terms of 5G mobility," Chan said.
But Verizon's decision to employ 5G TF meant that its deployment this year would be limited. Chan said the company would offer its 5G home broadband service to more people starting in 2019 once it shifts over to the use of 5G NR, the global standard for the technology.
The move, however, has left Verizon open to criticism from T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who called out the launch in a tweetstorm today.
"Verizon says, 'there's 5G & then there's Verizon 5G' - What they mean is Verizon 5G* is available... in tiny pockets of neighborhoods... if you don't have trees nearby... or appliances in your house... or walls...," Legere tweeted.
Chan denied that Verizon's move was a marketing stunt.
"This is a real launch for us," he said. "We're not doing this as a trial."
He argued that Verizon couldn't have replicated the broader 4G LTE launch because the chipsets for 5G smartphones weren't ready yet.
Likewise, he said the work that Verizon has been doing during its trials over the past year has given the company a lot of intel on the use of millimeter wave spectrum, or airwaves that run at a super high frequency capable of delivering tons of data at high speeds. Carriers don't use that kind of spectrum now because of issues with interference and range, but Chan said Verizon has a learned a lot about bouncing and directing those signals to bolster coverage in crowded urban areas.
Verizon plans to launch its mobile 5G service early next year, but Chan declined to offer many details about products.
"You'll be surprised by the devices," Chan teased.
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