On Friday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere called Verizon “clueless” and “dead in the water without a strategy” for 5G. Now, Verizon says it has a 5G strategy — it just isn’t sharing exactly what that strategy is.
Legere claimed that Verizon lacked a plan to expand 5G beyond big cities since the carrier appeared to be relying entirely on millimeter wave, a type of radio wave that can deliver very fast speeds but only over short distances. Verizon’s advertising and public comments have been heavily focused on millimeter-wave deployment, but the company now tells The Verge that its 5G plans go beyond that when it comes to expanding 5G to the rest of the US.
Verizon will have a “multi-spectrum strategy,” said Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s VP of network and technology who’s focused on 5G deployment. The comment seems to indicate that Verizon will also put its lower-spectrum holdings to use for 5G. Wireless carriers regularly take spectrum that’s being used for older technologies — like 2G or 3G — and update it for use with newer technologies — like 4G and now 5G.
But Hemmer declined to share what specific swaths of spectrum Verizon would use for 5G, saying the silence offered the company a “competitive edge.” So while the company says its strategy isn’t just limited to millimeter wave, like Legere said, we’re still not sure what else is involved. The answer is important, as it could determine how fast and far-reaching (and expensive) Verizon’s 5G deployment is.
Hemmer says Verizon will eventually reuse already-deployed spectrum for 5G, but she didn’t commit to it being part of the carrier’s initial rollout plans. “We will be using at some point in the future every band of spectrum that we currently own,” Hemmer said.
Verizon seemingly doesn’t want to reallocate the spectrum it’s using for LTE right off the bat because nearly every customer on its network is still using it. “We don’t want to take spectrum away from bread-and-butter customers,” Hemmer said.
There have been a lot of questions around how 5G deployment will work because the most hyped element — millimeter wave — is really only useful in dense urban areas where many people can take advantage of its short range. Verizon has acknowledged in the past that not everyone will be covered by millimeter wave, and Hemmer confirmed that again, saying it is not part of the carrier’s “nationwide deployment plans.”
AT&T and T-Mobile have made it clear that they’ll be using low-band spectrum — the kind they’re already using for LTE — to reach customers in suburban and rural areas with 5G. T-Mobile has also boasted about how it’ll put Sprint’s mid-band spectrum (which is faster than what’s used for LTE, but slower than millimeter wave) to use for this, too, once the merger closes.
Verizon needs some sort of solution to deliver 5G to people outside of cities. For now, all we know is that it won’t be millimeter wave — at least not everywhere. Whatever the solution is, Hemmer said, it won’t be any slower than the high-speed 5G deployments that are already live in a small number of cities. “The speed that we get will be the speeds we’re seeing now,” Hemmer said.