Back in 2018, Verizon got a lot of press for the release of a fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC) technology it called Verizon Home. The first big test market was Sacramento. The company built fiber along residential streets and used wireless loops to reach homes. At the time, Verizon touted speeds of 300 Mbps but said that it was shooting for gigabit speeds using millimeter-wave spectrum. Verizon tried to make this a self-installed product, and customers got instructions on how to place the receiver in different windows facing the street to find the best reception and speeds.
There were quotes from the time that Verizon intended to build fiber to pass 25 million homes by 2025 with the technology. But then the product went quiet. In 2020, the Verizon Home product reappeared, but it is a totally different product that uses cellular spectrum from cell towers to bring broadband. This is the product that the industry is categorizing as FWA (fixed wireless access). The company no longer quotes a target broadband speed and instead sayshttps://www.verizon.com/5g/home/ “Verizon 5G Home is reliable and fast to power your whole home with lots of devices connected. So all of your TVs, tablets, phones, gaming consoles and more run on the ultra-fast and reliable Verizon network.” In looking through some Ookla speed tests for the FWA product, it looks like download speeds are in the 100 – 150 Mbps range – but like any cellular product, the speed varies by household according to the distance between a customer and the transmitter and other local conditions.
The new cellular-based product has gone gangbusters, and Verizon had over one million customers on the product by the end of the third quarter of 2022, having sold 342,000 new customers in that quarter. The relaunch of the product was confusing because the company took the unusual step of using the same product name and website when it switched to the wireless product. It even kept the same prices.
But the two products are day and night different. Verizon’s original plan was to pass millions of homes with a broadband product that was fast enough to be a serious competitor to cable broadband. Even if the product never quite achieved gigabit speeds, it was going to be fast enough to be a lower-priced competitor to cable companies.
While the new Verizon Home product is selling quickly, the product is not close in capabilities to the FTTC product. Cellular bandwidth is never going to be as reliable as a landline technology or one where fiber is as close as the curb. Verizon (and T-Mobile) have both made it clear that the FWA customers will take second priority for bandwidth availability behind cell phone customers. I don’t know that these companies could do it any other way – they can’t jeopardize unhappiness from a hundred million cellular customers to serve a much smaller number of FWA customers.
I think everybody understands the way that cellular broadband capabilities change during the day. We all see it as the bars of 4G or 5G at our homes bounce up and down based on a variety of factors such as weather, temperature, and the general network usage in the immediate neighborhood. The most interesting thing about being a broadband customer on a cellular network is that the experience is unique to every customer. The reception will vary according to the distance from the cell tower or small cell and the amount of clutter and interference in a given neighborhood from foliage and other buildings.
I expect that large bandwidth users will get frustrated with the variability of the signal and eventually go back to a landline technology. The FWA product is mostly aimed at bringing broadband to rural customers who have no better broadband alternative or to folks in towns for whom saving money is more important than performance. There are a lot of such people who have stuck with DSL for years rather than upgrading to the more expensive cable broadband, and these are the likely target for FWA. In fact, FWA might finally let the telcos turn off DSL networks.
Verizon says it’s still on track with what it calls the One Fiber initiative which is aimed at building Verizon-owned fiber to cell towers and small cell sites. This backbone was likely the planned starting point for neighborhood fiber, but now this is mostly a cost-cutting step to stop paying fiber leases.