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Verizon Has No Plans to Spend Tax Cut Bonanza on Network Upgrades

Phillip Dampier January 23, 2018 Verizon, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Verizon will spend most of the benefits gained from the Trump Administration’s tax cuts on writing off investments that will reduce the company’s tax exposure and boosting its dividend to shareholders.

Verizon’s chief technology officer Hans Vestberg told shareholders at an investment conference the company had no plans to spend the $3.5-$4 billion more in operating cash flow that will result from tax cuts on network upgrades, while it will continue to cut as much as $10 billion in costs out of its business over the next four years.

Verizon has attempted to converge its traditional wireline business with its wireless unit since buying out its partner Vodafone. As the two networks gradually merge, Verizon is continuing job cuts and expense reductions, even as the company will enjoy a $16.8 billion reduction in its deferred tax liabilities because of the new permanently lowered 21% corporate tax rate.

Vestberg argued Verizon was likely to waste money if it spent its anticipated windfall on accelerated network upgrades.

“You probably don’t want to have big spikes in the capital allocation because then in the end it drives inefficiencies. We want to be consistent,” Vestberg said. “From an execution point of view you want to be consistent. It’s not helpful to go up and down in capital allocation because it ramps up and down resources—money wasted … But we are always debating. And we should debate in a leadership team the size of Verizon.”

Verizon currently pays out more than three-quarters of its annual income to shareholders in the form of quarterly dividend payments. This morning, Verizon announced it would award 50 shares of restricted Verizon stock to virtually every employee except those in top management. On Tuesday, Verizon stock traded at around $53 a share, making the stock bonus potentially worth around $2,650 for each worker. But employees may not be permitted to sell their shares immediately. In earlier compensation packages that included restricted shares, the stock could not be sold for at least two years, and was subject to forfeit if an employee left the company during that window.

Verizon’s operating plan for 2018 includes a spending budget of $17 billion, an amount that has not changed as a result of the new tax law. Verizon is expected to allocate a significant amount of its budget towards its wireless services, particularly 5G development.

Comcast Adds 4G Backup to Cover Internet Outages for Businesses

Phillip Dampier January 11, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

Comcast’s Business division has introduced the first automatic 4G backup internet connection service for commercial customers who experience an internet outage or network problem.

Comcast’s Connection Pro ($29.95/mo) offers automatic switching to a backup 4G LTE wireless internet service that will keep business customers connected to the internet until Comcast’s wired broadband connection is repaired and goes back online.

“Internet connectivity is critical for any business. Losing their connection – even shortly – can be disruptive,” said Jeff Lewis, vice president, data product management, Comcast Business. “Comcast Business understands that businesses need a redundant back-up solution to help stay connected and provide greater peace of mind in the event of a power or internet outage.”

The service targets small businesses and retailers and is marketed as a backup for cash registers/credit card point of sale terminals, email, and cloud services, and includes battery backup to maintain connectivity for up to eight hours in the event of a power outage.

Business customers can also access an online control panel to remotely monitor outages at individual business locations.

Starry Brings $50 Fixed Wireless Internet to Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles

Residents of a handful of multi-dwelling apartments and condos in Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles will be able to kick the phone and cable company out of their units and switch to a fixed wireless provider offering 200 Mbps internet access for $50 a month.

Starry Wireless, from the man who brought you Aereo, the now defunct streaming service that used to offer local over the air stations but was sued out of existence, has spent more than a year testing its millimeter wave wireless technology in Cambridge, Mass. apartment buildings and is ready to expand.

A company promotional video explains Starry’s internet service. (1:53)

Starry is considered a startup, but is relying on budget-conscious pre-existing technology to deliver point-to-multipoint wireless internet service over a limited area. Using pre-standard 5G technology that relies on unlicensed millimeter wave spectrum, Starry’s service is provided from antennas mounted on multi-story buildings.

Because the technology isn’t revolutionary, Starry can utilize equipment already for sale in the marketplace. Some commercial fixed-wireless services already exist using a similar approach, and Google itself is developing a wireless gigabit internet service that is likely to eventually overtake its limited fiber rollouts.

Starry currently offers one plan – 200/200 Mbps with no data caps or contracts for $50 a month. The company claims it can deliver gigabit service using the same technology, but has chosen not to offer it at this time.

Reviews in the Boston area give the service high marks for performance, even in bad weather that was expected to create some problems for the line-of-sight technology. But the service also has its skeptics who believe the technology’s downsides limit its scale.

The biggest con to millimeter wave internet is that its range is extremely limited. Starry is only expected to serve multi-dwelling units in dense urban areas, where its mounted rooftop antennas can reach enough customers to cover the company’s costs. Neither Google or Starry have targeted their services to residential customers living in single home neighborhoods. Starry also must find receptive landlords willing to offer or lease space for its antenna equipment and tolerate mounted equipment, as needed.

Starry’s technology approach offers a concentrated signal with extensive bandwidth available to customers. Because its reach is so limited, each antenna will reach a smaller number of customers, making it unlikely the company will oversell its wireless capacity. Starry’s decision to not get into the gigabit business yet may be a way of ensuring it has enough capacity to deliver the speeds it advertises to customers before speeding things up.

Customers are strongly encouraged by the company to use its included Starry Station, a triangular Wi-Fi hub with a built-in Android-powered touchscreen controller to manage in-home Wi-Fi. This device normally retails for around $300, so bundling it with internet service makes it a good deal. But the device gets mixed reviews. Some criticized it as over-engineered and unstable. Many reviewers complained about poor Wi-Fi coverage and randomly dropped wireless signals. Others complained it tends to lock up, which may be the result of overheating. Many noticed the unit generates a lot of heat, presumably from its built-in power supply and Android touchscreen interface. It requires a noticeably loud built-in fan, which runs continuously, to manage cooling duty.

The Starry Station did not get great reviews for its performance or the amazing amount of heat it generates. (2 minutes)

Despite the expansion into Los Angeles and Washington, Starry can still be considered a beta level service and availability will remain spotty for some time. During 2018, Starry expects to begin limited service in: New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Miami and Minneapolis.

Verizon and Samsung Partner Up to Provide 5G Services, Starting in Sacramento

Verizon Communications has selected Samsung Electronics as a major supplier of the wireless company’s forthcoming 5G wireless service, launching first in Sacramento, Calif., in the second half of this year.

Samsung will be a major vendor supplying Verizon and its customers in Sacramento with 5G equipment, including wireless modems and routers. In 11 other cities where Verizon is testing 5G service, Ericsson AB, another 5G network vendor, has supplied much of the equipment. Samsung is currently a small player in the 5G networking business, but hopes to ramp up its business and cross-promote its smartphones and tablets with future 5G users.

Verizon’s wireless customers in Sacramento will be the first to receive invitations to switch their home broadband accounts away from AT&T, Frontier, Wave Broadband and Comcast — the four largest incumbent providers in the greater Sacramento area. Verizon claims its 5G service can support speeds up to 1Gbps. Verizon has been testing 5G service in 11 U.S. cities, but has kept pricing details to itself. The issue of data caps has been repeatedly raised and most industry analysts predict Verizon will usage cap its 5G service at around 200GB a month. Whether the company plans to offer an unlimited use plan is unknown.

Kim Young-ky, president of Samsung’s networks business, told the Wall Street Journal that 5G is a reality and it will be much more than just an upgrade from 4G service.

“The average U.S. consumer uses about five gigabytes of mobile data a month,” said Kim. But after 5G becomes more ubiquitous in the next few years, he believes consumers will eventually use closer to 100GB monthly on new services such as virtual or augmented reality programs—or even from driverless cars, the newspaper added.

Kim expects the first 5G capable smartphones won’t appear until sometime in 2019, leaving 5G primarily as a wireless home broadband replacement during its initial rollout.

Verizon Accuses AT&T of “Rigging the Game to Stifle True Competition”

It is rare for AT&T and Verizon to feud in public, even rarer for one company to accuse the other of being anti-competitive, but that is precisely what happened last week in California as the two companies sparred over building a next generation wireless network for first responders.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is a government program to provide emergency responders with priority access to the first nationwide, high-speed wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. AT&T won an extremely lucrative contract to build, operate and maintain the network in states that “opt in” to AT&T/FirstNet’s proposal. But AT&T is not building a separate wireless network apart from its existing wireless infrastructure. It is using $6.5 billion in public taxpayer dollars and free access to an extremely valuable segment of nationwide 700MHz spectrum, known as Band 14, to improve its existing wireless network for individual customers and the first responders that will get priority access in the event of an emergency.

For AT&T to benefit the most financially, it has to convince each of 56 states and territories to “opt in” to its FirstNet deployment plan or do nothing at all, which will result in that state or territory automatically being enrolled in AT&T’s plan. If a state elects to opt out of AT&T’s plan, the wireless company cannot get free access to Band 14 or collect the taxpayer dollars designated for that area.

FirstNet is one of AT&T’s most lucrative contracts in years, and the phone company is doing everything possible to win over state officials in hopes they will embrace the FirstNet plan. It has been a successful effort with more than 30 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands purposely opting in, and more than a dozen still studying AT&T’s offer. To date, no state has opted out.

Verizon, which did not bid on the original FirstNet contract, has not walked away from providing public safety communications and has spent a considerable amount of its advertising budget to promote Verizon’s own services to first responders, designed to assure they get first priority to clogged cellular networks in the event of an emergency. In August, Verizon announced it will privately finance its own “private network core” to directly serve police, fire, ambulance, and related agencies. Verizon’s first responder network will be separate from Verizon’s public network, but the company has also promised full priority access to its public LTE 4G network across the country.

Verizon’s counteroffer comes without taxpayer financing, yet will offer many of the same services as AT&T FirstNet, without costing the country more than $6 billion. Among the services Verizon will give away for free: priority/preemption access, which means in an emergency, first priority will go to emergency officials even if it means dropping your cell phone call or data session. Verizon is also bolstering its Push-to-Talk Plus service, which works with existing land mobile radio networks. This will allow first responders to use the “walkie talkie”-type features already a familiar part of their radio equipment.

Verizon’s offer would seem to be a good deal for consumers and governments in states like New York and California that have yet to opt in to AT&T FirstNet, and in California, Verizon was invited to bid to create an alternative network in a potential “opt out” scenario. Verizon’s director of public-safety solutions group – David Wiederecht, promised the state Verizon would submit its bid by the state deadline, which was last Wednesday. By Friday, California officials leaked word Verizon had reneged on that commitment and did not participate, a fact Verizon later confirmed.

Verizon accused AT&T and FirstNet of colluding to rig the “Request for Proposals” process in California with requirements that were impossible for anyone except AT&T to meet.

“Vigorous competition that allows the industry and the marketplace to continue to grow and innovate is in the best interest of public safety and should be everyone’s shared goal,” Verizon said in a written statement. “Instead, we believe FirstNet and its corporate partner are rigging the game in order to stifle true competition.”

Urgent Communications reported that the among the most onerous requirements imposed by AT&T and FirstNet is that all emergency communications in an “opt out” state must be sent to the FirstNet LTE core network operated by AT&T. That would mean that regardless of who builds and operates the network, AT&T still remains at the core of FirstNet.

“We’re not prepared to have our public safety customers run on a network where we can’t control their ability to connect or their customer experience,” according to the Verizon spokesperson.

Verizon suggests the reason for 36 states to have opted-in to AT&T’s proposal may not be the result of love for AT&T, but rather the punishments the states and territories risk if they don’t sign on with AT&T.

Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public safety, testified at a Pennsylvania hearing regarding FirstNet and warned states could be effectively stuck with AT&T indefinitely.

“States should not be required to use the network core deployed by (AT&T) FirstNet, as such a requirement would put the state in the untenable position of being driven by the interests and decisions of FirstNet’s commercial partner—a condition that would be unattractive to any prospective state commercial partner,” Brittingham said.

AT&T has also borrowed from its customer preservation policies on the retail side with terms and conditions that could be financially devastating to states that decide to look elsewhere.

Because any competing provider is required to use AT&T’s network core to be a part of FirstNet, AT&T can set whatever price it chooses for third party access. But most onerous of all is the penalty imposed if a state opts out of AT&T FirstNet and chooses a vendor that does not meet every FirstNet guideline. In that case, a state would be required to come hat in hand back to AT&T/FirstNet for service that does meet the guidelines AT&T/FirstNet wrote. In California, that penalty fee would amount to as much as $15 billion, more than twice the amount taxpayers are paying AT&T to build out FirstNet in at least 36 states and territories.

Taken from a FirstNet fact sheet.

AT&T defended the amount of the penalty fee, claiming it has to build or enhance its network to provide public safety communications for at least 25 years, but critics contend the penalty is so risky, most states will opt for the path of least resistance and legal exposure and sign on with AT&T/FirstNet.

Verizon’s complaints about the bidding process received a strong rebuke from AT&T.

“Building a state-of-the art network that meets the needs of first responders is hard. Clearly, AT&T is up for the task,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said in a statement provided to Urgent Communications. “We’re noticing a pattern: Verizon says they have public safety’s back, but when it comes to the heavy lifting, they are nowhere to be found.”

But then, neither are any competing providers.

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