At its virtual investor day in March, Verizon announced plans to expand its wireless 5G Home broadband product. This is the product that can best be referred to as fiber-to-the-curb because it requires building fiber up and down streets in neighborhoods and then delivering the broadband wirelessly.
Until now, Verizon has been using millimeter-wave spectrum for the Home product. It seems evident that this product has not been everything that Verizon hoped for. The company first introduced the product three years ago and then paused to re-engineer the product. My guess is that Verizon found that millimeter-wave spectrum is more unforgiving in the wild than what they had hoped for.
Verizon plans to modify the Home product by layering on C-Band spectrum, which it recently purchased in an FCC auction. This spectrum sits between the two WiFi bands at 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz. It’s an interesting choice to make for fiber-to-the-curb because the C-Band spectrum will carry farther from the curb but will carry a lot less bandwidth than millimeter-wave spectrum.
In the original trial, Verizon reported broadband speeds of 300 Mbps. The company touts that the latest iteration of the product is faster, but I haven’t yet seen any speeds reported yet by new customers. When asked about the speeds that will be available using C-Band, the Verizon company spokesperson said speeds will be “competitive”. This tells us that speeds are still not approaching Verizon’s gigabit speed goal.
It’s an interesting product in several ways. First, Verizon seems to be building this in markets where it was not the incumbent telephone company. Many of the markets announced so far were legacy markets served by AT&T, and Verizon is stepping into the void that AT&T created by ceasing the sale of DSL. It will be interesting to see if Verizon uses the product in its legacy markets where it never built FiOS.
Verizon has been an interesting ISP since the advent of the FiOS fiber product. The company remained disciplined and only built FiOS where the construction costs met the company’s internal cost metrics. This resulted in a disjointed FiOS roll-out where FiOS was only built in the parts of markets that met the company’s metrics. I have to think they will do something similar again.
One of the reasons for the company to expand the Home product is to take advantage of its aggressive fiber builds over the last five years. Verizon has been building fiber all over the country to replace expensive backhaul leases for cell towers. The Home product is a way to take a second advantage of that construction, as well as a way to justify building fiber deeper into neighborhoods to reach small cell sites.
Verizon has said that it hopes to build to pass 25 million homes and businesses by 2025 with the technology. At the investor meeting, Verizon voiced a goal of reaching a 20% market penetration with the new service – meaning a target of 5 million new broadband customers. Part of the strategy for doing so is to bundle the product aggressively with Verizon cellular service.
In the long run, the success of this product is probably going to boil down to broadband speeds that will be achieved with the C-Band spectrum. We’ll have to wait to see how that spectrum behaves when transmitted at pole height in neighborhoods with trees, shrubs, and other impediments. I would think that any product north of 100 Mbps speeds will play well today if it’s priced low enough. The challenge for Verizon is likely to be a decade from now when the cable companies might have increased basic speeds to something like 500 Mbps. The good news for Verizon is that this product could someday be converted to fiber FiOS by building the fiber drops. Verizon might be using the wireless product to gain market share in new markets, with the full realization that eventually homes will want the fiber connection.