Europe will follow the US and offer unlimited 5G data plans as standard to consumers and enterprises, and European operators will be forced to respond to the pinch on capacity constraints with more aggressive 5G deployments.
This is the view of the trans-Atlantic disjunct on 5G from Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and group chief executive at US Carrier Verizon. Dunne (pictured), previously chief executive at Telefonica O2 in the UK, is well positioned to judge the differing approaches to 5G by US and European operators.
Speaking on a panel at 5G World in London, Dunne noted the differences. The US telecoms market has been compelled to deploy 5G at pace because of unlimited demand for mobile services from consumers, and its need to in-fill where fibre broadband services are absent. It has been helped by the more ready availability of spectrum.
By contrast European operators remain locked in battle over spiralling data plans, with consumers able to offload data traffic onto fixed networks via Wi-Fi in homes and offices. But they will succumb, and unlimited data will be offered with 5G plans within a year, he hinted – or by his return, next time, he joked.
“We operate in a marketplace where there are unlimited offers for consumers. The average consumer is on an unlimited plan, using about 40GB of data per month. We have data traffic growing on our network at 35-45 per cent per annum. So the first use case for 5G is it’s a high capacity boost and a lower cost bearer for supporting that growth,” he said.
“That may not be the case in some European markets, but if you don’t think unlimited is coming, I’ll be back at some stage when everyone in Europe has unlimited plans. The question about whether you can make any money is another discussion.”
But in a rapid-fire explanation, Dunne said US tier-one carriers are buoyed by their spectrum holdings to take on the challenge of serving demand in populous urban areas and providing out-of-reach locales with fibre-like mobile connectivity. The business case for deploying 5G is better in the US than in Europe, he said.
“Although we have deep fibre assets in metro areas, just the size and scale of the US means from a residential broadband point of view we only have a residential broadband fibre business in the northeast. 5G also allows us to offer fixed-wireless access.
“Outside of our existing broadband footprint, 5G will allow us to cover another 30 million homes with residential broadband using the same investment from my 5G mobility. So my business case is better.”
It stacks up in terms of providing new capacity and higher quality to existing customers, and capturing new markets with a fibre-like home-broadband offer.
“We use millimetre wave spectrum in the ultra-high frequencies at 28 and 39 GHz, which means we have 1,000MHz of contiguous bandwidth. Most carriers in Europe are lucky to have 2×20 paired in any part of their spectrum range,” he said.
“That will allow me to carry at any one time in a square kilometre of network more than 10TB of data at a time, and offer 15Gbps download speeds, while supporting one million connected devices – and at a latency with the full return-path of less than 10 milliseconds. So in those circumstances there are massive capacity enhancements, massive quality of service enhancements, and the ability to support significant new value-add above the core connectivity layer.”
He said Verizon’s aggressive early work with Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia through its Verizon 5G Technical Forum (5GTF), ahead of Release 15 of the 5G NR standard, also set it up to capitalise on early 5G deployments and fixed-wireless business gains.
“The timeline for 5G deployment, which was mid-to-late 2025, and beyond, was way too slow. And we thought the opportunity was there to accelerate the development and actually bring 5G to market much earlier,” he said.
“We went out on a limb and primed the pump by investing in radio and customer premises (CPE) equipment to support a proof case particularly for millimetre wave. We launched, last October, the world’s first 5G residential broadband network in four markets in the US as the proof of the fact that millimetre wave does work in the rain, in the snow, it gets past leaves on trees – and it does.”
He added: “People said TF is non-standard, so why would you bother doing it? I can tell you the release of the 3GPP standard that’s out there today is so close to the TF standard as to almost make no difference. So the investment we’ve made and those device manufacturers and radio equipment vendors have been able to deploy probably 95 per cent of the insight and the development they made in accelerating their NR programmes.”
In particular, Verizon engaged Samsung to develop radio equipment, 5G home broadband routers, and 5G smartphones for every band going, including millimetre wave.
“Although there are 5G devices here from Samsung, and in Korea, they’re mid band. So the only one in the world on the millimetre wave is that variant of the S10 5G that was built specifically for the US market. By working with Samsung, which had all of the pieces of the jigsaw, we were able to accelerate the timeline, and surprise surprise, get a competitive tension with all the other vendors.”
Verizon claims higher adoption rates for 5G fixed-wireless than for previous fibre offers, and churn of around 60 per cent in the home broadband market. “Which is a proof point customers are interested in an alternative choice,” said Dunne.
Customers want the same experience outside and inside homes and offices. 5G offers that, he said. “Consumers buy experience, they don’t buy technology. Even businesses buy solutions. You need to focus on experiences the customer values – and that is high speed, low latency, high quality bandwidth,” he said.
“The real ambition for consumers is they want to do what they want to do, wherever they want to do it – and to be freed from the idea of high quality experiences at home and the workplace, and medium quality experiences everywhere else. The opportunity is to bring the experience set together.”
They also want to have their content unbundled from their connectivity, he suggested. “We are offering people the opportunity to separate their big-fat-bundle content from their connectivity. That will allow us to bring the connectivity together for both home and mobile.”
Dunne also explained the rationale for deploying 5G in different spectrum bands. The combination of 5G and millimetre wave spectrum brings huge capacity in dense areas, and the art of network operations in urban locales is to guarantee the backhaul fibre network can handle the flood of data.
“In dense urban networks, we’ve already defined that in the build-out of our 4G, we have built so many capacity sites in our urban network that the density of nodes that we require for 5G millimetre wave in some cases is less dense than the network we’ve already built. So if I have my infrastructure there – and just one reference to fibre,” he said.
“The average provider laying fibre in the ground lays fibre with 70-100 strands of glass in the sheath. We’re laying 1,700 strands of fibre in the sheath when we lay our fibre in the US, primarily to support the growth of mobile networks. So the growth in capacity in cities will lend itself to millimetre wave deployments, particularly where having 1,000MHz of contiguous spectrum creates a massive capacity boost from a bearer point of view.”
It changes in suburban, semi-rural and rural climes, where mid-band 5G deployments will “work well”.
He summed up: “The thing to understand is every piece of spectrum that every carrier in the world holds today is capable of delivering 5G. So it’s just about refarming and redeploying as the traffic moves.”
A final point; he warned specialist private networks may not stack up. “What’s interesting if you get to campus and other areas is, if you have niche deployments there, you have a closed network, and you have a device that works brilliantly for a specific use case. But the challenge with that is it is very hard to do scale.”
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