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Verizon Testing Super Fast 5G Internet With Customers in 11 Cities

February 22, 2017, 2:00 PM UTC
People walk past a 5G banner during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
People walk past a 5G banner during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Albert Gea - RTX28733
© Albert Gea / Reuters REUTERS

Verizon disclosed plans to pilot test a new super-fast wireless service with customers in 11 cities starting in April. The next generation, or 5G, service will provide Internet speeds at a gigabit per second or faster, comparable to the fastest speeds offered by fiber optic wired services from Google, AT&T and others.

Working with partners Samsung and Ericsson, Verizon said on Wednesday it will offer the free trials to selected customers in Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bernardsville, N.J., Brockton, Mass., Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Sacramento, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. in the first half of the year. Verizon has built out several hundred cell sites with 5G transmitters capable of reaching several thousand customer homes and businesses.

In pre-commercial trials that started in December, Verizon and Samsung demonstrated multi-gigabit per second speeds at distances of up 1,500 feet. The initial customer trials will use 28 GHz frequency airwaves for service to fixed points, like a home router, but Verizon also plans to test 5G mobile service later this year.

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The announcement comes about two months after CEO Lowell McAdam first disclosed the planned trials at a UBS investor conference in New York. “I think that is going to be the predominant architecture for wireless service going forward,” he said. McAdam has also said Verizon could eventually offer the service nationwide.

Industry groups have not yet finished establishing all of the technical standards to allow 5G gear to interact, so Verizon will rely on its own preliminary standards effort, known as the Verizon 5G Technology Forum. Samsung said the equipment was designed to be upgradable to meet final standards from the wireless industry’s 3GPP group when they are completed. In addition to Samsung and Ericsson (ERIC), Intel (INTC) and Qualcomm (QCOM) are also making chips compatible with the Verizon standard.

Verizon has long touted the upcoming 5G standard, which will be 10 to 40 times faster than current 4G LTE wireless service, as the basis for a new cable and Internet service. The 5G technology is needed for Verizon’s six year, $300 million plan to offer TV and Internet in Boston, for example. The goal is to connect customers at much lower cost than is required for today’s wired high-speed data services. Verizon’s Fios unit, which offers wired cable TV and Internet service, largely ceased expanding years ago because of the expense of building fiber optic lines to customers’ homes.

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But the 5G wireless plan could dramatically reduce those costs. A customer would only need a typical router placed by a window to receive signals for Internet and TV service from a neighborhood-based cell tower. Verizon (VZ) has even discussed deploying more numerous microcells, with new technology that can put a 5G transmitter inside a street light, for example.

Still, with customer testing about to begin, there is no guarantee that the 5G service will prove economical yet.

As growth in its two main lines of business—wired and wireless phone service—have slowed, the carrier is looking for ways to save money and crack new markets. For instance, in addition to 5G video service, McAdam has also targeted service for smart, connected devices in the Internet of things a well as online advertising, via the acquisition of AOL and pending purchase of Yahoo (YHOO).