Verizon plants its partnership seeds to grow a sturdy 5G tree

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Verizon was one of the first companies to introduce 4G LTE. Now it is aiming to be one of the first to the plate with 5G wireless technology. Ed Chan, Verizon’s senior vice president, technology strategy and planning, spoke to Bill Boyle

Ed Chan, Verizon

Ed Chan: 5G is no longer a dream of the distant future

If we believe the hype, 5G technology will be introduced in the US sometime after 2020, but Verizon is trying hard to accelerate the expected rate of innovation. By choosing a small group of key partners to work with, Verizon plans to launch field technology trials next year. The remit is the work of Verizon’s 5G Technology Forum, a group that is working to define parameters for 5G specifications in advance of future standards. With 5G, end users will enjoy wireless service that delivers several gigabits per second throughputs and single-millisecond latencies, it claims.

Rather than wait, Chan said, for standards in the market to slowly emerge, Verizon decided to help the process along by inviting some of the key players, such as Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung, to get together and start getting down to the nitty-gritty. They kicked-off the inaugural Verizon 5G Technology Forum in August and have established working teams to ensure that the pace of innovation does not slacken off.

“The size of some of the other industry standards groups is so big it is hard to imagine what useful standards they can realistically produce,” says Chan. “We asked - what will be the minimum use case? And the answer is high-bandwidth, so we are doing what we did with 4G – building a wonderful network and letting our customers innovate on top of that.”

5G network environments, or “sandboxes”, are being created in Verizon’s Waltham, Massachusetts, and San Francisco Innovation Centers. The thinking is that, just like in the early days of the development of 4G LTE technology, collaborating in a shared environment will foster better applications, and faster.

Field trials are due to start this year. “5G is no longer a dream of the distant future,” says Chan. “We feel a tremendous sense of urgency to push forward on 5G and mobilise the ecosystem by collaborating with industry leaders and developers to usher in a new generation of innovation.”

The expected benefits of 5G, as described during Verizon’s inaugural forum, include about 50 times the throughput of current 4G LTE; latency in the single milliseconds; and the ability to handle exponentially more internet-connected devices to accommodate the expected explosion of what Verizon calls “the internet of everything”.

“Technological evolutions of this huge scale must be a collaboration of players in the ecosystem,” Chan adds. “Having Verizon initiate this effort now, even as 4G LTE technology has so much headroom left, will enrich our digital lives for years to come.”

In an interesting nod towards the commercial reality of such joint ventures, Verizon’s 5G Technology Forum also includes an entire group comprised of over ten high-technology venture capital groups.

“Each partner is a leader, but together we represent more than $50 billion in annual research, development and technology investments and thousands of patents,” Chan says. “Collectively we are bringing to bear an incredible amount of resources and intellectual capital to introduce the next generation of wireless technology.

“Verizon will continue to accelerate innovation around 5G technology by working closely with its partners. We were the first to launch 4G nationwide. Our field technical trials are proving that 5G is here and ready to be commercialised, and we have constructed several test beds that represent real-world environments.”

Field testing with 5G technology partners covers a broad range of deployment scenarios. Fixed wireless and mobile 5G systems were connected to the Verizon network backbone, and signals transferred between outdoor and indoor environments. Testing was performed both in residential and commercial buildings. These tests mimic real world scenarios using millimetre wave bands, including bands in the FCC’s Notice for Proposed Rulemaking for 5G Spectrum. Latency was measured in the millisecond range across various distances; this is important in delivering high-quality video.

In addition to the single field trials conducted with each of the partners, the following elements are being assessed across all sites: antenna innovation with millimetre and centimetre wave spectrum using various deployment conditions, and wideband spectrum.

Also, 5G will have the ability to handle exponentially more connected devices and accommodate the explosion of the internet of things.

“We are also collaborating closely with our peer operators in the Asian markets and companies such as DoCoMo, and are very much aligned towards implementing 5G technology in 2017,” says Chan.

“Verizon LTE Advanced means your data session moves more quickly over the best network,” Chan explains. “Imagine a road with multiple lanes in which, once you pick a lane, that is the lane you drive in. That describes our 4G LTE network. LTE-Advanced allows cars to change lanes efficiently and flawlessly, balancing the flow of traffic and getting drivers to their destinations more efficiently. That means blindingly fast data transmissions when you need it most.”

LTE-Advanced currently uses a combination of two-and three-carrier aggregation. Customers will continue to enjoy typical download speeds of 5-12Mbps, but two-channel carrier aggregation has shown peak download speeds of up to 225Mbps, far exceeding the current rates being experienced by wireless data networks nationwide. While the rates of two-channel carrier aggregation provide a leap forward, three-channel carrier aggregation provides even greater efficiency. Verizon engineers deploying three-channel carrier aggregation have experienced speeds greater than 300Mbps.

The specification provides guidelines to test and validate crucial 5G technical components. The development of the specification allows industry partners such as chipset vendors, network vendors, and mobile operators to develop interoperable solutions and contribute to pre-standard testing and fabrication. The specification document is accessible via a public website.

“The completion of the 5G radio specification is a key milestone toward the development of a complete 5G specification,” says Adam Koeppe, vice president of network technology planning, who is leading 5G trial efforts. “The level of collaboration that we are seeing exceeds what we saw during 4G. This agile way of developing and working with the ecosystem will enable us to get to market rapidly.”

Chan also mentioned a new partnership with Verizon to make Boston one of the most technologically advanced smart cities in the country by replacing its copper-based infrastructure with a state-of-the-art fibre network platform across the city. The new network will offer much-increased bandwidth and speeds, with Verizon investing over $300 million in Boston over six years.

Construction of the fibre network will be completed neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood to concentrate resources and provide an expedited timeline. The city has also promised to provide a fast-tracked permit process

In 2010, Verizon built one of the world’s first 4G LTE networks in Boston and, shortly after, opened its Waltham Innovation Center, which will host Verizon’s development and testing of cutting-edge 5G wireless.

“This transformation is not just about advanced new fibre-optic technology – it is about the innovative services this platform will allow people to create and use, today and in the future,” Chan says.

LTE-Advanced’s software combines a few bandwidth channels into one channel to send data sessions over the most efficient route to completion. Verizon’s carrier aggregation uses a combination of 700MHz, AWS and PCS spectrum.

This partnership will also improve wireless services in Boston by enabling Verizon to attach wireless equipment to city street lights and utility poles, helping residents get fast, reliable mobile service and further enabling it a smart-city.

In addition to its other benefits, this partnership includes an innovative Smart Cities trial that will address traffic safety and congestion along the Massachusetts Avenue Vision Zero Priority Corridor. The city and Verizon will experiment with sensors and advanced traffic signal control technology to increase safety, measure bicycle traffic, improve public transit vehicle flow, and decrease congestion. Future Smart Cities applications will address other key services Bostonians care about, including environmental sensors, energy efficiency, and city lighting management.

In August Verizon announced it had launched LTE-Advanced technology to bring 50% faster peak wireless data speeds to more than 288 million people in 461 cities.

As Chan says: “Verizon LTE-Advanced uses software that combines multiple channels to speed mobile data over the network more quickly than ever before.”

Of the ongoing standards process Chan says: “We cannot predict the future. When we started with 4G we thought that, with the preponderance of laptops at the time the future would be dongles embedded in the network. We were wrong. This time around we are taking a pragmatic approach. Silicon Valley builds agile software. It doesn’t try to guess what the network of the future will look like. It just builds the software to be as good as it can.”