Verizon CEO on what’s next for 5G in 2022

December 1, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Verizon Communications CEO and chairman Hans Vestberg has a small goal. 

“I want to build the best network with the best performance and have as many people using it as possible,” he said at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Tuesday. 

The telecom giant is battling with AT&T for the lead in the 5G arena. That competition has been hampered by the Federal Aviation Administration’s concerns that mid-band 5G spectrum could pose a risk to aircraft safety systems. Both companies recently agreed to hold off on expanding mid-band 5G until January 2022 to give the FAA more time to analyze the issue. 

The two companies intend to push ahead in the new year with some limitations on 5G services in order to reduce potential risk, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Mid-band spectrum is key to U.S. telecom companies building out 5G networks, and the industry has chafed at the FAA’s concerns. The spectrum, commonly called C-band, offers the speed and range to make it possible for companies to offer widespread 5G service that is noticeably better than 4G. Verizon and its competitors spent nearly $70 billion earlier this year to be able to use a narrow slice of C-band spectrum.

“This spectrum is used in 40 countries, and to my knowledge aircraft are landing in all those countries as well without any problems,” Vestberg said. 

Customers are adopting 5G faster than they took to its predecessor, 4G, he noted.

During the company’s third-quarter earnings call, he told analysts that less than a year after 5G devices entered the market, about 25% of the consumer phone base is using 5G-enabled devices. By comparison, it took 12 months for 4G devices to hit 10%.

There is plenty more innovation to come for 5G, Vestberg said at the conference. 

The telecom industry veteran has pursued a holistic approach to network infrastructure since taking over at Verizon in 2018. That approach extends from the company’s data centers to a person placing a phone call.

“It’s just one multi-network, and then at the edge we decide together with our customer what type of access they need,” based on their ability to connect, he said. 

Verizon is using millimeter-wave spectrum (mmWave) for 5G in high-density areas, such as cities and even National Football League (NFL) stadiums. This season 5G is available to customers of all three national mobile carriers at NFL stadiums. 

Based on data from the first three months of the season, Verizon’s connectivity is far outpacing that of its competitors, according to a report from Opensignal, a mobile analytics company.

For example, Verizon customers could download at 320.7 Mbps, compared with 146 Mbps for T-Mobile customers and 46.7 Mbps for AT&T customers. 

C-band spectrum is below mmWave and will allow Verizon—and its competitors—to extend 5G beyond crowded city centers. After that comes low-band spectrum which will offer lower connectivity. For areas beyond the reach of cell towers, Verizon will rely on satellites through industry partnerships, Vestberg said. 

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