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Verizon 5G Hype vs. Reality: Widely Unavailable and More Like a “Live Beta”

Phillip Dampier September 18, 2018 Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

A Verizon 5G small cell installed in Sacramento. (Image courtesy: ZoraQ)

Consumers hoping for the imminent arrival of a “cable killer” from Verizon’s new millimeter wave 5G fixed wireless broadband should not hold their breath.

Verizon executives have been paraded out to celebrate its debuting 5G service as “revolutionary/game changing/transformational” at the same time Qualcomm, which helped define the forthcoming 5G standard claims it will be “as transformative as the automobile and electricity.”

But the ‘Revolution of 5G’ will not be the next fall of the Berlin Wall or Arab Spring. Those revolutionary changes happened almost overnight. Instead, 5G will be quintessential American capitalism at work: overhyped promises to excite the public and attract investors, tempered by the reality that massive amounts of money and at least a decade of work will be needed to blanket only parts of the country with small cells and the newly ubiquitous fiber optic networks required to connect them together.

Verizon already offers hints of that reality, but only in the fine print where it acknowledges its wireless home broadband replacement service, set to launch on October 1, will be only available in parts of four U.S. cities. Verizon isn’t saying what percentage of Sacramento, Los Angeles, Houston, and Indianapolis will be covered, but enthusiastic would-be customers are crowdsourcing their own coverage maps, and the results are underwhelming.

The City of Sacramento released this map showing Verizon’s planned 5G coverage in the city, but customers dispute it. (Image: City of Sacramento)

“Lightning has hit more homes than Verizon 5G will in Sacramento,” reports Jack Del Vecchio, who spent an hour entering addresses on Verizon’s website looking for service. “The city of Sacramento, trying to placate homeowners worried about more cell equipment visually polluting the city, released a map where Verizon claimed it would be offering 5G service by the end of 2018. That clearly is not happening, at least not yet, because most of these neighborhoods do not have small cells installed yet.”

In Indianapolis, reddit user rycummin_IU scanned almost 17,000 addresses and found Verizon service available to just 179 homes and businesses. Only a fraction of customers in Houston and Los Angeles are qualified for service as well.

The vast unavailability of Verizon 5G service in Indianapolis. (Image courtesy: rycummin_IU)

“When they said Houston would be part of the rollout I didn’t think they meant one street,” commented another reddit user. In reality, Verizon 5G will debut in parts of low-income neighborhoods like Acres Home, Gulfton, Second Ward, Third Ward and Near Northside, at the behest of city officials, among a few others. But availability is very scattered, and based on search results, Verizon is only qualifying customers that live within approximately 500 feet of a small cell antenna.

This map shows the limited range of Verizon 5G small cells. In this case, this neighborhood is likely served by one or two small cells, probably in the vicinity of Sugar and Brady and/or Eastwood or Jenkins St. Notice coverage is often unavailable across streets. (Image courtesy: SmokeyTuna)

The most unlikely choice for limited range 5G is notoriously sprawling Los Angeles, and frustrated residents reported service was least likely to be found there.

“I spent 30 minutes plugging in random addresses all over Los Angeles and I finally found one that works,” reports reddit user chantasic. “It’s the big apartment building at 1108 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90017 in [downtown Los Angeles]. If you go just one block west from there on Garland Ave, it’s not available. If you enter in ‘1127 Lucas Ave Los Angeles, CA 90017’ which is a high-rise, then it starts asking you what floor you live on and whether you have any windows that face 7th St. So one of the antennas must be on 7th St.”

“I put in my work address and it worked at 555 South Flower street, which is across from the library on West Fifth Street,” shared another user. A third reddit reader in Los Angeles managed to track down service at Medici Apartments, a complex next to the 110 freeway in the South Westlake area.

Those customers who are lucky enough to live in a qualified service area report the sign-up process to be orderly. A full credit check is done on prospective customers, and assuming one passes it, an appointment for “white glove” installation is scheduled. Verizon has confirmed no self-install option will be available for the time being. Verizon’s installers are trained to find the best possible place to install its 28GHz antenna, which does not perform well penetrating heavy foliage, certain building materials, and low-energy insulated window glass. Verizon plans to monitor the performance of these early 5G installations to gather more information about how the service is working and how to get the best performance from it.

Verizon has released terms and conditions for the service and provided more insight into the installation process, which takes several hours. Customers interested in more information can call this special Verizon 5G hotline — 1-866-217-2223 to order and schedule installation, or find out about 5G Home.

Verizon 5G Home Terms of Service

Two pieces of 5G Home equipment will be installed at your home:

  • Indoor or outdoor 5G receiver
  • 5G router

The type of receiver (indoor or outdoor) you get depends on the 5G signal strength. If needed, Wi-Fi extenders will be installed in the home, at no charge, to ensure adequate Wi-Fi coverage for the entire house.

What will happen during the 5G Home installation?

An Asurion (third party contractor) technician will complete the following installation process for your 5G Home service and connect your devices:

  • Verify and explain the areas in your home where the 5G signal is received.
  • Conduct a test to determine whether the 5G receiver can be installed inside or outside your home. The strength of the 5G signal can vary inside and outside your home.
  • Conduct a test of the Wi-Fi signal strength of each device throughout the house that is connected to the 5G Home router. A Wi-Fi extender may also be installed at no charge to strengthen the Wi-Fi signal throughout your house or for devices that have a weak Wi-Fi signal.
  • Install the receiver, with your approval, either inside or outside on the side of your house.
  • Depending on the locations of the receiver and the router, the technician may need to run wires through walls, floors or ceilings.
  • Ensure that all your previously Wi-Fi connected devices are now connected to your Verizon 5G Home router.
  • Demonstrate how you can use the My Verizon app to manage your router, such as how to restart it when you are away from home, and check the signal strength of the devices connected to the router.

Service Availability. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that our 5G Home service will be available at your address, even if we accepted your order. The 5G Home service does not support static IP addresses.

Equipment. We’ll provide you with equipment, which may include an indoor or outdoor receiver, a router, a Wi-Fi extender, and other equipment, to use with your 5G Home service. That equipment will continue to be owned by us, and you can’t use it for any other purpose, move it to a different location or position, tamper with or intentionally damage it, or allow anyone else to service it. We will repair and maintain that equipment at our expense, unless we determine that you misused, abused or intentionally damaged the equipment, in which case, you will have to pay the replacement cost of it. If any of that equipment is stolen, please provide us with a copy of your police report, so that you are not charged for it.

Installation and Access to Your Premises. We will attempt to install the 5G Home service at the address that you provided to us at the time of sale. From time to time, we may access your outdoor receiver to service, inspect, upgrade and/or remove it. If 5G (or 4G LTE backup) coverage is not available at your address, or if we cannot perform installation for any reason, then we will cancel your order.

Changing Service Location. You may not move the 5G Home service to another address. If you are moving to a new address at which the 5G Home service is available and you wish to continue using it, then please contact us to install it at your new address.

Service Cancellation and Equipment Returns. Upon termination of your 5G Home service, you should return the equipment to us in an undamaged condition (subject only to reasonable wear and tear) within 21 days after service cancellation, or you may be charged an unreturned equipment fee, which may be substantial. If you don’t cancel your 5G Home service, then your service charges will continue to apply, even if you return the equipment. If we ask you to leave the outdoor receiver in place, you will not be charged an unreturned equipment fee.

Verizon Starts Taking Orders Thursday for 5G Home Internet in Houston, Indianapolis, LA and Sacramento

Verizon 5G Home will begin accepting new customer orders for its in-home wireless broadband replacement as of this Thursday, Sept. 13, with a scheduled service launch date of Oct. 1.

The new high-speed wireless service will be available in select parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg is calling the service part of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network. Initial reports indicate speed will range between 300-1,000 Mbps and existing Verizon Wireless customers will get a $20 price break on service — $50 a month instead of $70 for non-Verizon Wireless customers. We are still waiting word on any data caps or speed throttle information. Verizon informs Stop the Cap! there are no data caps or speed throttles. Service is effectively unlimited, unless hidden terms and conditions introduce unpublished limits.

Interested customers can determine their eligibility starting at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday from the Firston5G website. If you are not eligible initially, you can add your email address to be notified when service is available in your area.

Early adopters will be awarded with a series of goodies:

  • Free installation (a big deal, since it could cost as much as $200 later. An external antenna is required, as well as in-home wiring and equipment.)
  • 90 days of free service (a good idea, considering there may be bugs to work out)
  • 90 days of free YouTube TV (a welcome gift for cord-cutters)
  • Free Chromecast or Apple TV 4K (a common sign up enticement with streaming cable-TV replacements)
  • Priority access to buy forthcoming line of 5G-capable mobile devices

Customers in the first four launch cities will be using equipment built around a draft standard of 5G, as the final release version is still forthcoming. Verizon is holding off on additional expansion of 5G services until the final 5G standard is released, and promises early adopters will receive upgraded technology when that happens.

Verizon is clearly providing a greater-than-average number of enticements for early adopters, undoubtedly to placate them if and when service anomalies and disruptions occur. Although Verizon has done limited beta testing of its 5G service, it is very likely the 5G network will get its first real shakeout with paying customers. Unanticipated challenges are likely to range from coverage and speed issues, unexpected interference, network traffic loading, the robustness of Verizon’s small cell network, and how well outside reception equipment will perform in different weather conditions, particularly heavy rain and snow. With a large number of freebies, and no charges for 90 days, customers are likely to be more forgiving of problems, at least initially.

Chromecast

Verizon’s 5G network depends on millimeter wave spectrum, which means it will be capable of providing very high-speed service with greater network capacity than traditional 4G LTE wireless networks. But Verizon will have to bring 5G antennas much closer to subscribers’ homes, because millimeter wave frequencies do not travel very far.

Verizon will combine a fiber backhaul network with small cell antennas placed on top of utility and light poles to reach customers. That explains why Verizon’s initial 5G deployment is unlikely to cover every customer inside city limits. There are substantial deployment costs and installation issues relating to small cells and the optical fiber network required to connect each small cell.

Verizon’s existing FiOS network areas will offer an easier path to introduce service, but where Verizon does not offer its fiber to the home service, it will need to bring fiber optic cables deep into neighborhoods.

AT&T sees a similar challenge to 5G and is openly questioning how useful wireless 5G can be for urban/suburban broadband service, considering it can simply extend fiber optic service to those homes and businesses instead, without a costly 5G small cell deployment.

Verizon introduces 5G wireless in-home broadband in four U.S. cities and starts taking new customer orders on Thursday. (1:00)

Article updated at 6:28pm ET with information about data caps and speed throttles provided by Verizon.

Verizon Switching Off Copper Network in Parts of NY, NJ, MA, PA, RI, and VA

Phillip Dampier September 5, 2018 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 2 Comments

Verizon is continuing efforts to gradually retire its copper-wire facilities in parts of six states, replacing existing copper wiring with a fiber to the home network.

Verizon has notified regulators the company intends to drop support for traditional landline service, replaced with Verizon’s fiber-powered internet and digital phone service.

“As a general matter, the retirement of copper facilities will not result in changes to rates, terms, and conditions in cases where the affected service is converted to a like-for-like service that is available on fiber facilities,” Verizon told regulators.

The central offices affected (click bold link to get copy of list of affected addresses):

Massachusetts

Dorchester, Hyde Park, Milton, Roxbury and West Roxbury (Nov. 30, 2018)

Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury and West Roxbury (Phase 2 – March 9, 2019)

Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and West Roxbury (Phase 3 – June 28, 2019)

New York

Bedford Village (Oct. 1, 2018)

South Staten Island + 58 wire centers in: Queens, Brooklyn, Astoria, Corona, Manhattan, Bronx, Flushing, Forest Hills, Long Island City, Newtown, Staten Island, and Richmond Hill (Nov. 30, 2018)

47 wire centers in Brooklyn, Astoria, Manhattan, Queens, Corona, Flushing, Forest Hills, Bronx, Long Island City, Newtown, and Richmond Hill (March 9, 2019)

60 wire centers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Bronx, Richmond Hill, Queens, Newtown, Long Island City, JFK Airport, Forest Hills, Flushing, Corona, and Astoria (June 28, 2019)

Pennsylvania

Bethel Park, Camp Hill, Carnegie, East Liberty, Enola, Middletown, Oakland, Paxtonia and Steelton (Nov. 30, 2018)

Pottsdown (June 28, 2019)

Rhode Island

Riverside (Nov. 30, 2018)

New Jersey

Mays Landing (March 9, 2019)

Virginia

Second Avenue – Richmond (March 9, 2019)

T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless Achieve Top Scores in Mobile Performance Report

Mobile broadband performance in the United States remains nothing to write home about, achieving 43rd place worldwide for download speeds (between Hong Kong and Portugal) and a dismal 73rd for upload speed (between Laos and Panama). With this in mind, choosing the best performing carrier can make the difference between a tolerable experience and a frustrating one. In the first six months of 2018, Ookla’s Speedtest ranked T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless the two top carriers in the U.S.

From January through the end of June, 2,841,471 unique mobile devices were used to perform over 12 million consumer-initiated cellular network tests on Speedtest apps, giving Ookla insight into which carriers consistently performed the best in different cities around the country. The results showed average download speed of 27.33 Mbps, an increase of 20.4% on average since the same period in 2017. Upload speed achieved an average of 8.63 Mbps, up just 1.4%.

Achieving average speeds of 36.80 Mbps, first-place Minnesota performed 4 Mbps better than second place Michigan. New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts and Rhode Island were the next best-performing states. In dead last place: sparsely populated Wyoming, followed by Alaska, Mississippi, Maine, and West Virginia.

T-Mobile’s heavy investment in 4G LTE network upgrades have clearly delivered for the company, which once again achieved the fastest average download speed results among the top-four carriers: 27.86 Mbps. Verizon Wireless was a close second at 26.02 Mbps. Verizon’s speed increases have come primarily from network densification efforts and equipment upgrades. Further behind was AT&T, achieving 22.17 Mbps, and Sprint which managed 20.38 Mbps, which actually represents a major improvement. Sprint has been gradually catching up to AT&T, according to Ookla’s report, because it is activating some of its unused spectrum in some markets.

Your Device Matters

Which device you use can also make a difference in speed and performance. In a match between the Apple iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy S9, the results were not even close, with the Samsung easily outperforming the popular iPhone. The reason for the performance gap is the fact Samsung’s latest Galaxy phone has four receive antennas and the iPhone X does not. The iPhone X is also compromised by the total amount of LTE spectrum deployed by each carrier and the fact it cannot combine more than two spatial streams at a time. Until Apple catches up, iPhone X users will achieve their best speeds on T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, in part because Verizon uses more wideband, contiguous Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) LTE spectrum than any other carrier, which will allow iPhone users to benefit from the enhanced bandwidth while connected to just two frequency blocks. The worst performing network for iPhone X users belongs to Sprint, followed by AT&T.

 

Rural vs. Urban

For customers in the top-100 cities in the United States, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless were generally the best choices, with some interesting exceptions. AT&T and Verizon Wireless generally performed best in areas where the companies also offer landline service, presumably because they are able to take advantage of existing company owned infrastructure and fiber networks. Verizon Wireless performed especially well in 13 states in the northeast, the upper midwest (where it acquired other cellular providers several years ago), Alaska, and Hawaii. AT&T was fastest in four states, especially the Carolinas where it has offered landline service for decades, as well as Nebraska and Nevada. Sprint outperformed all the rest in Colorado, while T-Mobile’s investments helped make it the fastest carrier in 31 states, notably in the southeast, southwest, and west coast cities.

The story rapidly changes in rural areas, however. Almost uniformly, speeds are considerably slower in rural areas where coverage and backhaul connectivity problems can drag down speeds dramatically. In these areas, how much your wireless provider is willing to spend makes all the difference. As a result, T-Mobile’s speed advantage in urban areas is dramatically reduced to near-equivalence with Verizon Wireless in rural communities, closely followed by AT&T. Sprint continues to lag behind in fourth place. No speed test result means a thing if you have no coverage at all, so rural customers need to carefully consider the impact of changing carriers. Always consider a 10-14 day trial run of a new provider and take the phone to places you will use it the most to make sure coverage is robust and reliable. Sprint and T-Mobile’s roaming agreements can help, but in areas with marginal reception, the two smaller carriers still favor their own networks, even if service is spotty.

MSA-Metropolitan Service Area; RSA-Rural Service Area

Network Upgrades and the Future

In the short term, most wireless upgrades will continue to enhance existing 4G LTE service and capacity. True 5G service, capable of speeds of a gigabit or more, is several years away for most Americans.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile has invested in thousands of new cell sites in over 900 cities and towns to quash its reputation of being good in cities but poor in the countryside. Many, but not all of these cell sites are in exurban areas never reached by T-Mobile before. The company is also deploying its 600 MHz spectrum, which performs well indoors and has a longer reach than its higher frequency spectrum, which will go a long way to end annoying service drops in marginal reception areas. These upgrades should make T-Mobile’s service stronger and more reliable in suburbs and towns adjacent to major roadways. But service may remain spotty to non-existent in rural states like West Virginia. Most of T-Mobile’s spectrum is now dedicated to 4G LTE service, with just 10 MHz reserved for 3G legacy users. T-Mobile has set aside only the tiny guard bands for LTE and UMTS service for legacy GSM channels handling some voice calls and 2G services.

T-Mobile is also introducing customers to Carrier Aggregation through Licensed Assisted Access (LAA). This new technology combines T-Mobile’s current wireless spectrum with large swaths of unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band. Because the more bandwidth a carrier has, the faster the speeds a carrier can achieve, this upgrade can offer real world speeds approaching 600 Mbps in some areas, especially in urban locations.

Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless is suffering a capacity shortage in some areas, causing speeds to drop during peak usage times at congested towers. Verizon’s solution has been to add new cell sites in these mostly urban areas to divide up the traffic load. In many markets, Verizon has also converted most or all of its mid-band spectrum to LTE service, compacting its legacy CDMA network into a small section of the 850 MHz band. With 90% of its traffic now on LTE networks, this week Verizon confirmed it will stop activating new 3G-only devices and phones on its network, as it prepares to end legacy CDMA and 3G service at the end of 2019. Once decommissioned, the frequencies will be repurposed for additional LTE service.

In the immediate future, expect Verizon to continue activating advanced LTE features like 256 QAM, which enables customers’ devices and the network to exchange data in larger amounts and at faster speeds, and 4×4 MIMO, which uses an increased number of antennas at the cell tower and on customers’ devices to minimize interference when transmitting data. How fast this technology arrives at each cell site depends on the type of equipment already in place. At towers powered by Ericsson technology, a minor hardware upgrade will quickly enable these features. But where older legacy Alcatel-Lucent equipment is still in use, Verizon must first install newer Nokia Networks equipment to introduce these features. That upgrade program has moved slower than anticipated.

Older phones usually cannot take advantage of advanced LTE upgrades so Verizon, like other carriers, may have to convince customers it is time to buy a new phone to make the most efficient use of its upgraded network.

AT&T

AT&T customers are also dealing with capacity issues in some busy markets. AT&T has a lot of spectrum, but not all of it is ideal for indoor coverage or rural areas. The company, like Verizon, is trying to deal with its congestion issues by deploying new technologies in traffic-heavy metropolitan markets. AT&T is using unlicensed spectrum in parts of seven cities, accessible to customers using the latest generation devices, to increase speeds and free up capacity for those with older phones. For most customers, however, the most noticeable capacity upgrade is likely to come from AT&T’s nationwide public safety network. This taxpayer-supported LTE network will be reserved for first responders during emergencies or disasters, but the rest of the time other AT&T customers will be free to use this network with lower priority access. This will go a long way towards easing network congestion, and customers will get access automatically as available.

At the same time, AT&T, like Verizon, is trying to deploy additional advanced LTE features, but has been delayed as it mothballs older Alcatel-Lucent equipment at older cell sites, replaced with current generation Nokia equipment.

Sprint

Sprint has done the most in 2017-2018 to improve its wireless network, especially its traditionally anemic download speeds. While still the slowest among all four national carriers, things have gotten noticeably better for many Sprint customers in the last six months. Sprint recently activated LTE on 40-60 MHz of its long-held 2.5 GHz spectrum, which has improved network capacity. Carrier Aggregation has also been switched on in several markets.

Unfortunately, Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum isn’t the best performer indoors, and the company has also had to adjust frame configuration in this band. Sprint is the only Time Division Duplex (TDD) LTE carrier in the country. This technology allows Sprint to adjust the ratio of download and upload capacity by dedicating different amounts of bandwidth to one or the other. Sprint tried to address its woeful download speeds by devoting 30% more of its capacity to downloads. But this also resulted in a significant drop in upload speeds, which are already anemic. Sprint has been able to further tweak its network in some areas to boost upload speeds up to 50%, assuming customers have good signals, to mitigate this issue.

Sprint is also restrained by very limited cell site density and less lower frequency spectrum than other carriers. That means more customers are likely to share a Sprint cell tower in an area than other carriers, and the distance between those towers is often greater, which can cause more instances of poor signal problems and marginal reception than other carriers. Sprint’s best solution to these problems is a merger with T-Mobile, which would allow Sprint to contribute its 2.5 GHz spectrum with T-Mobile’s more robust, lower frequency spectrum and greater number of cell sites, instead of investing further to bolster its network of cell sites.

Verizon Reaches Deal With N.Y. Public Service Commission to Expand Fiber Network

Verizon Communications will bring fiber and enhanced DSL broadband service to an additional 32,000 New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and upstate as part of a multi-million dollar agreement with the New York Public Service Commission.

When combined with an earlier agreement, Verizon has committed to bringing rural broadband service to more than 47,000 households in its landline service area, with the state contributing $71 million in subsidies and Verizon spending $36 million of its own money.

By the end of this year, Verizon expects to introduce high-speed fiber to the home internet service to 7,000 new locations on Long Island and 4,000 in the Hudson Valley and upstate regions.

“The joint proposal strikes the appropriate balance for consumers, Verizon and its employees,” said PSC Chairman John Rhodes. “The joint proposal builds upon and expands important customer protections previously approved by the Commission and it requires Verizon to expand its fiber network and invest in its copper network, both of which will result service improvements.”

The broadband expansion agreement will include copper reliability improvements in the New York City area, where FiOS is still not available to every home and business in the city. It also includes a commitment to provide fiber-to-the-neighborhood (FTTN) service in sparsely populated areas. This will allow Verizon to introduce or enhance DSL service capable of speeds of 10 Mbps or more.

Verizon has also committed to remove at least 64,000 duplicate utility poles over the next four years around the state. Utility companies have been criticized for installing new poles without removing damaged or deteriorating older poles.

For now, neither Verizon or the PSC is providing details about where broadband service will be introduced or improved.

The state has negotiated with Verizon for more than two years to get the company to improve its legacy landline and internet services, still important in New York. Verizon has complained that with most of its landline customers long gone, it didn’t make financial sense to invest heavily in older, existing copper wire technology. But Verizon suspended expansion of its fiber to the home network in upstate New York eight years ago, leaving many customers in limbo as landline service quality declined. There are still more than two million households and businesses in New York connected to Verizon’s copper wire network.

The state says the deal will “result in the availability of higher quality, more reliable landline telephone service to currently underserved communities and will increase Verizon’s competitive presence in several economically important telecommunications markets in New York.”

The upgrades will cover landline and broadband service improvements. Verizon has no plans to restart expansion of FiOS TV service.

The agreement was reached as the PSC continues to threaten Charter Communications with additional fines and Spectrum cable franchise revocation for failure to meet the terms of its 2016 merger agreement with Time Warner Cable.

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