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“Refreshed” Verizon Home 5G Will Launch In 30 Cities This Year; Improved Reception Promised

After learning from the experiences of providing a wireless 5G home broadband alternative in a handful of U.S. cities, Verizon is preparing to launch a refreshed 5G Home fixed wireless product in all 30 cities where it intends to provide mobile 5G service this year.

The biggest change will be a new emphasis on self-installs. Verizon estimates about 80% of customers pre-screened online as qualified for the service can install it themselves with an indoor antenna. That is a big change for Verizon, which used to rely on technicians installing a fixed antenna on the side of a customer’s home. A new receiver expected to be introduced in 2020 is also expected to boost reception through the use of a new high-powered chipset, likely including Qualcomm’s new QTM527 mmWave antenna module that was custom designed to enhance and extend the range of 5G fixed wireless services. Verizon’s current 5G Home equipment uses a chipset originally designed for 5G smartphones.

Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, said Verizon Home 5G will be sold as a companion product wherever Verizon’s 5G millimeter wave network debuts.

“We’re now ready to go mass market,” Dunne told a group of investors.

U.S. cities with Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Houston*
  • Indianapolis*
  • Los Angeles*
  • Minneapolis
  • Providence
  • Sacramento*
  • St. Paul
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Phoenix

(*-These cities, except for Indianapolis, only have fixed wireless 5G Home broadband at this time.)

U.S. cities planned for Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband deployment in 2019

  • Boston
  • Charlotte
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland
  • Columbus
  • Dallas
  • Des Moines
  • Houston
  • Indianapolis
  • Kansas City
  • Little Rock
  • Memphis
  • San Diego
  • Salt Lake City

But where that market will exactly be is hard to tell. Verizon relies heavily on its service address qualification tool, which shows if a prospective customer can obtain the service. That tool is refined enough to ensure that over 90% of Verizon’s fixed wireless traffic stays on its 5G network, with only around 10% falling back to Verizon’s existing 4G LTE network.

Verizon uses its tool to assure “qualified” customers are well inside the radius of its 5G coverage area. An analysis found Verizon’s millimeter wave network, which operates in the 28 GHz band, has a limited range. Although Verizon predicted its network could reach 1,000 feet from each small cell location, the website only qualified those in Sacramento living within around 500 feet of each small cell. Verizon is also heavily reliant on using light poles for smart cells, and these were not always suitable for the widest coverage.

Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research explored Verizon’s 5G network in Sacramento and found it primarily targeting 5G Home customers. If Verizon is intending to cover entire cities with millimeter wave 5G, Lum said “you’re talking about a crapload of poles.” Some analysts expect Verizon will introduce lower band 5G service to increase and compliment its millimeter wave coverage areas. The impact traffic from Verizon’s 5G Home service will have on lower band 5G networks is not known. The home broadband replacement currently markets speeds of around 300 Mbps with no monthly data cap for as low as $50, if one also subscribes to Verizon Wireless mobile service. Any low band 5G service running from traditional macro cell towers will be shared with a much larger number of customers than those sharing a small cell, potentially creating capacity problems down the road.

One other change to report: Verizon’s newest 5G Home cities will launch using the official 5G NR standard, not the unofficial 5G TF standard Verizon used in the four early launch cities.

It is too early to tell whether incumbent phone and cable companies will perceive a significant competitive threat from Verizon’s high speed fixed wireless proposition. Early reports of the service’s limited coverage in the four launch cities and fears about the high cost of expanding 5G service seemed to calm operator fears of a new competitor. But Verizon has also said for months that it purposely limited its 5G Home network rollout until the official 5G standard emerged. The wireless operator has also used this past spring and summer to learn from its early experiences with fixed 5G service and cut expenses like required truck rolls for installation out of the business. The money saved could be plowed into a more robust network of 5G small cells covering larger areas.

Verizon Wireless Sues Rochester, N.Y. for Discrimination Over Forthcoming 5G Small Cells

Verizon Wireless has sued the City of Rochester, N.Y. in a potentially precedent-setting case, for demanding excessive and discriminatory fees to use public rights-of-way to deploy a fiber backhaul network and hundreds of small cells to support the introduction of 5G wireless service in the community.

The lawsuit, Cellco Partnership (d/b/a Verizon Wireless) v. City of Rochester seeks a declaratory judgment acknowledging that local laws regarding the use of rights-of-way by telecommunications companies have been largely overridden by the Trump Administration’s Federal Communications Commission. Under FCC guidelines, the maximum compensation rate a city can generally collect is $270 annually for each small cell site, far less than what the City of Rochester hopes to collect from telecommunications companies planning to dig up streets and place hundreds of small cell antennas on utility and light poles across the city.

The two parties are far apart on what defines fair and just compensation. In early 2019, the City of Rochester introduced a new fee schedule that seeks $1,500 annually for the use of each publicly owned utility or light pole, and $1,000 per standalone “smart pole” erected by a wireless company to support a small cell. Verizon Wireless wants to pay no more than $270 annually for either type.

The City also wants compensation to cover “administrative costs for retaining and managing documents and records,” “costs for managing, coordinating and responding to public concerns and complaints,” and “the costs of the City’s self-insurance.” Verizon Wireless’ attorneys argue that the FCC’s “presumptive limit” of $270 annually is all-inclusive, and therefore the fees requested are inherently unreasonable.

The City ordinance is also designed to discourage providers from installing cables on existing utility poles, preferring underground installation.

“Aerial installation of fiber or other telecommunications facilities and accessory equipment strung between poles, buildings, or other facilities, is strongly discouraged due to area weather, safety concerns, limited capacity, and aesthetic disturbances,” the ordinance reads. But Verizon Wireless argues the extra fees demanded by the City for underground burial of fiber optic cable are illegal under federal law.

“The Code’s ‘underground’ fee structure is not a reasonable approximation of actual cost, is not objectively determined, and is discriminatory,” Verizon Wireless argues.

The City’s fees for fiber optic cable installation are significant. Verizon Wireless’ lawsuit notes fees start at $10,000 for up to 2,500 linear feet of installed fiber optic cable, plus an additional $1.50 for each additional foot from 2,500-12,500 feet and $0.75 for each additional foot above 12,500 feet. After the first year, fees continue at $5,000 annually for up to 2,500 feet, $1 for each additional foot from 2,500-12,500 feet, and $0.50 for each additional foot above 12,500 feet. Somewhat lower fees apply if Verizon places its fiber cables in an existing conduit with other cables, or if it uses directional boring to place conduit and wiring without disturbing lawns, roads, or sidewalks.

Curtin

Verizon Wireless’ attorneys argue the fees cannot possibly reflect the City’s true costs because the charges are the same regardless if Verizon installed three feet or 2,000 feet of fiber optic cable.

But City Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin told the Democrat & Chronicle the city’s new fee schedule is comparable to what other cities are charging, and the City is planning more restrictions to keep providers from repeatedly digging up streets and yards to place new cable and equipment.

“This is a serious problem with people digging up the same right of way every other day and not repairing it,” Curtin told the newspaper.

The City is also exploring passing a new “dig once” policy that would incentivize providers to coordinate fiber installation to place wiring and equipment in a single shared conduit in return for lower fees. But providers like Verizon Wireless consider it in their competitive advantage to wire cities like Rochester before their competitors do.

“To better serve its customers and the City and to begin to serve new customers and provide new services, Verizon Wireless seeks to extend, densify, and upgrade its wireless network infrastructure [in Rochester], including to install additional Small Wireless Facilities to support the provision of current and next-generation telecommunications services such as 5G and to deploy fiber to connect these facilities. To successfully do this, Verizon Wireless requires new approvals from [the City of Rochester] to access City property,” Verizon’s lawsuit states. Because of the City’s fees and policies, “Verizon Wireless has been, and will continue to be, damaged and irreparably harmed, […] [including] an effective prohibition on Verizon Wireless’s ability to provide telecommunications services in the affected area of the City.”

In short, Verizon Wireless is threatening not to deploy 5G service in the area if the City successfully defends its fees and requirements.

Curtin argues Verizon Wireless is the only provider unwilling to comply with the City’s requirements, while others are moving forward under the new ordinance. One provider likely covered by Curtin’s claim is residential fiber overbuilder Greenlight Networks, which has installed fiber to the home service across several city neighborhoods for the past several years. But in 2019, Greenlight began focusing on installations in suburbs west of Rochester, and several city neighborhoods proposed for service have languished for years with “easements required” status, which could reflect Greenlight’s reluctance or ability to pay the City’s new fees.

Verizon has been the most aggressive wireless provider in Western and Central New York with respect to the proposed 5G service expansion. In addition to being the incumbent local telephone company in several New York cities (excluding Rochester), it has also offered spotty FiOS fiber to the home service in several suburbs of Buffalo and Syracuse.

A small cell

In contrast with Rochester, the City of Syracuse decided to effectively “partner” with Verizon Wireless to deploy 5G small cells to be considered America’s “first fully 5G city.” To win Verizon over, the City mothballed its existing fee policy in 2019 that charged $950 per small cell tower, resetting the rate to match the FCC’s presumed maximum of $270 annually. In return, Verizon has tentatively agreed to place up to 600 smart cell poles around the city, paying $162,000 a year. Verizon also agreed to pay a $500 application fee for each pole project (covering up to a maximum of five poles per project). Nobody is certain whether 600 smart cells are enough to saturate the city with 5G coverage, where exactly Verizon will ultimately place the small cells, or exactly when.

Ken Schmidt, president of Steel in the Air, a consultant to public and private landowners and municipalities on matters related to wireless infrastructure valuation, offered to advise the City of Syracuse for free about its agreement with Verizon Wireless, but the City never returned his calls, despite his direct experience working with other cities that negotiated with Verizon Wireless over 5G smart cells, pole attachment fees, and antenna placement rules.

“Syracuse seems to have bent over backward for Verizon,” Schmidt argues on his blog. “Make no mistake, there are benefits to becoming a 5G city, but this agreement does no more for Syracuse than it does for other cities where Verizon promised the same thing. At least some of the other cities didn’t enter into such a one-sided agreement. For example, SacramentoSan Diego and San Jose negotiated better terms and conditions than Syracuse did, and will have a similarly robust small cell deployment.”

Many consultants recommend that cities consider whether Verizon’s threats not to deploy 5G service are real, especially considering the company’s PR claims that moving forward with 5G is essential to Verizon’s network expansion.

Schmidt

Schmidt acknowledges the current FCC has a vested interest in helping large wireless companies deploy 5G infrastructure with a minimum of interference or fees from local governments.

“While the City could have negotiated a higher amount for the pole access rights or permit fees, it would have had to demonstrate that its actual costs in reviewing small cell applications and maintaining the rights-of-way were higher than the nominal fees allowed by the FCC,” Schmidt said.

Verizon’s lawyers appeared to outmaneuver the City’s attorneys by winning a number of concessions for Verizon that Syracuse will have to live with for up to 45 years. Schmidt’s recommendations may be useful to other cities, including Rochester, wrestling with these issues.

Schmidt:

Syracuse granted rights to Verizon for upward of 45 years when it didn’t have to. The city signed a master license agreement for 20 years, which allows Verizon to install poles under individual pole licenses that run up to 25 years from the date the pole was installed. Thus, if a pole is installed in year 20, it will be there for another 25 years. In short, the city is entering a possible 45-year agreement even though there is no legal requirement to do so by the FCC or any other agency. While Verizon surely prefers a much longer agreement, other cities are entering much shorter, 10-year agreements with Verizon. Verizon retained the right to terminate “at any time for any reason or no reason by written notice to the city,” but the city does not have the same right. So, the city is now committed to this specific agreement legally, regardless of what happens with technology in the future.

The agreement entered into by the city concedes unnecessary rights to Verizon under contract law. The agreement is substantially the same as other agreements proposed by Verizon to other cities. It attempts to incorporate many of the standards from the FCC Order into the license agreement. From a legal perspective, these clauses did not need to be in the license agreement. If Verizon felt the city was not adhering to the FCC order, Verizon by default has the option of requesting relief from the FCC or filing in federal court for injunction or damages. However, by adding the language in the license agreement, Verizon can now file in state court on a civil claim if Verizon believes the city is in breach of the agreement and collect monetary damages. This is absolutely of no benefit to Syracuse.

Other cities have received additional compensation in the form of public safety or “internet of things” monitoring and services, and higher fees to help pay for additional staff to review small cells applications. Syracuse received nothing. In fairness, the other cities are bigger and more important to Verizon than Syracuse. Nonetheless, the only concession Verizon appears to have made to Syracuse is the requirement for Verizon to monitor a limited set of small cells for compliance with applicable radio frequency emission standards. Verizon did not commit to deploying a certain number of small cells by any date. It is not required to deploy in the poorer areas of the city. And it did not commit to smart city initiatives or research on how 5G can benefit the residents of Syracuse.

The agreement gives the city limited rights to terminate, even if health risks are identified and proven. The city, in what appears to be an effort to appease its citizens that small cells are safe, inserted language that requires Verizon to test up to 5% of the small cells annually to confirm that they meet the minimum applicable health, safety and radio frequency regulations. The city could also test on its own, but only to confirm compliance with applicable FCC standards. By agreeing to a long-term license with limited rights to terminate, the city could be legally committed to Verizon small cells in the public right of way even if there is ample evidence that they should be removed, unless the FCC revokes its order.

By agreeing to such a one-sided agreement, the city has condemned itself to agree to similar agreements with any company providing wireless services who want to deploy in the right-of-way. Under the FCC Order and previous case law regarding the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the city may not discriminate between similar providers of wireless services. By agreeing to the terms with Verizon, the city will have a difficult time agreeing to different terms with other providers.

Verizon Delays Shutdown of 3G CDMA Network Until the End of 2020

Verizon Wireless customers with older devices still reliant on 3G CDMA technology will be able to continue using them on Verizon’s network until the end of 2020.

The wireless giant confirmed this week it is postponing its retirement of 3G service for a year. The company had planned to switch off support for 3G at the end of 2019.

Verizon spokesperson Howie Waterman told Light Reading the action is intended to give impacted customers “an extra year to decide what they want to do.”

Verizon had given priority to discontinuing 3G service so it can repurpose that spectrum for its 4G LTE network, which is approaching capacity in some areas. The company originally warned customers and its reseller MVNO partners back in 2016 that it would end 3G service on Dec. 31, 2019. It also stopped activating 3G-only phones on its network in July 2018.

Starting in early 2020, Verizon will no longer permit customers to transfer 3G phone service from one account to another, activate 3G service on a pre-existing line, swap a malfunctioning or lost 3G device for another 3G device, or use a 3G phone to roam outside of the U.S. Verizon hopes customers will see the restrictions as a motivation to upgrade to a new 4G LTE phone.

 

AT&T Warning Tower Owners to Cut Prices or They Will Relocate

AT&T claims it is willing to play hardball to force cell tower owners to reduce the cost of leasing space for AT&T’s wireless services. If tower owners won’t lower their prices, AT&T is threatening to find someone else willing to build a new, cheaper tower nearby.

AT&T is closely coordinating its tower strategy with its biggest competitor, Verizon Wireless. Together, the two companies are looking to force costs down by seeking opportunities with newer tower companies Tillman, CitySwitch, and Uniti Towers that are willing to build new towers next to old ones, while offering “much cheaper” pricing than industry leaders American Tower, Crown Castle, and SBA Communications.

Light Reading notes AT&T would like to pay roughly half the current rent for its wireless infrastructure. But it is running into a roadblock because 65% of American cell towers have no competition within a half-mile radius. Getting zoning approval to construct new towers, especially in suburban and residential areas, can be difficult and costly. But the three upstart tower companies AT&T and Verizon are working with claim they will commit to tower construction when there are signed contracts in hand. AT&T is using this fact to leverage existing companies to lower prices or lose AT&T’s business.

But Wall Street analysts suggest AT&T is bluffing. Research of FCC public records between January 2017 and April 2019 found 1,000 new tower applications, but only 500 had been built. Only 40% of those applications were to build new towers near existing ones. When one considers there are about 110,000 cell towers in the U.S., fewer than 0.5% of cell sites are likely to face competition based on the applications already filed.

The wireless industry prefers to co-locate infrastructure on existing towers, which means Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint could all theoretically be leasing space on the same tower. This was originally both a cost-saving measure and a bow to reality because new tower applications often take years to approve and often face local opposition. Most wireless companies sign 10-year contracts with tower companies, so any organized effort to force competition will probably take years.

AT&T complains it is the victim of a lack of competition and is fed up with the “vicious model” of monopoly tower companies charging excessively high prices and raising fees anytime AT&T changes their contract. Many of their customers can relate.

Altice Preparing to Offer $20-30/Mo Unlimited Data Mobile Plan

Altice USA could be your next cell phone provider, if you subscribe to Cablevision’s broadband service in the metro New York City area.

The Wall Street Journal reports Altice is preparing to launch an unlimited calling/texting/data plan that will cost between $20-30 per month, powered by Cablevision’s in-home Wi-Fi, its network of public Wi-Fi hotspots, and Sprint’s 4G LTE network.

The service, likely to be called Altice Mobile, is the latest entry from cable operators pitching low cost mobile service as an incentive to keep customers from switching providers. Altice will charge dramatically less for its unlimited plan than Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile ($45) — both reselling Verizon Wireless service — (with speeds reduced to 1 Mbps download and 512 kbps upload after 20 GB of data usage in a month.)

Customers using AT&T and Verizon pay even more. Unlimited monthly plans for a single phone start at $80 at Verizon and $70 at AT&T, depending on bundling certain other AT&T-owned services. For less than half the price, Altice Mobile would deliver all the same services larger providers offer, although Altice intends to offload as much usage as possible to its network of Wi-Fi hotspots, to keep costs low. Before Altice acquired the cable company, Cablevision built a major Wi-Fi presence in the New York City metro areas where it provides cable service. Altice announced it intends to strengthen that network to support its mobile initiative, including the possibility of deploying its own small cell network.

Where Altice cannot supply its own wireless connection, it will rely on Sprint to take over, paying the cell phone company for its customers’ traffic. In return, Sprint will be able to bolster its network in Altice’s service area, perhaps even using Altice’s fiber-to-the-home network, now under construction. That could help Sprint launch 5G service relatively soon in the region, regardless of whether its pending merger with T-Mobile USA is approved. To protect the venture, Altice has secured an agreement with both T-Mobile and Sprint not to terminate its contractual agreement with Sprint should a merger be approved. But the service will still be dependent on network owners like Sprint willing to sell connectivity. Should Altice Mobile take a significant share of the market, network owners may be reluctant to renew such contracts, or price them much higher at renewal time, raising prices.

The cable industry’s incentive for getting into the wireless business, even if it proves unprofitable, is plain to see. All entrants require their mobile customers to maintain a broadband account in good standing to qualify for mobile service. Comcast, Charter, and Altice are aware their video packages are increasingly untenable in a cord-cutter’s marketplace, but maintaining internet service remains essential. In most areas where the cable operators provide service, Verizon or AT&T also sells both broadband and wireless service. Customers may be reluctant to bounce between providers looking for a better deal if they also have to switch mobile providers at the same time.

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