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COVID-19 isn’t stopping Verizon’s 5G rollout


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COVID-19 isn’t stopping Verizon’s 5G rollout

The “VerHIDEzon” digital billboard stops in front of a Verizon store in Manhattan. Image: Jason DeCrow/AP/Shutterstock Sascha Segan for PCMag 2020-04-18 17:36:08 UTC Follow @https://twitter.com/PCMag PCMag.com is a leading authority on technology, delivering Labs-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions…

COVID-19 isn’t stopping Verizon’s 5G rollout
The “VerHIDEzon” digital billboard stops in front of a Verizon store in Manhattan.

Image: Jason DeCrow/AP/Shutterstock

Sascha Segan
for
PCMag

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Verizon is still rolling out 5G expansion in locked-down cities and is on track to have 60 5G cities by the end of the year, says Heidi Hemmer, the carrier’s VP of technology.

“There’s a calendar to launch more 5G cities over the next quarter, [but] we’re not doing marketing launches right now just because of everything that’s going on,” she says. “We’re on track for the additional 30 this year, and we continue to expand coverage in the 30 that we launched last year. In Chicago, we have three times the nodes we did a year ago.”

Verizon’s 5G launched almost exactly a year ago in Chicago and Minneapolis. In Chicago at the time, coverage was restricted only to a few sites in the city center. If Verizon’s current coverage map is to be believed, it now covers the entire Loop, West Loop, and River North areas, as well as major avenues in much of the rest of the city.

AT&T last announced a 5G expansion about a month ago, just as the COVID lockdowns were beginning, saying that it was expanding its low-band 5G from 80 to 100 markets. T-Mobile’s president of technology Neville Ray said on April 1 that his carrier was rolling out mid-band 5G in Philadelphia, although he stopped short of calling it a launch.

Because of its very short range, Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G system is harder to set up (but faster) than the low-band and mid-band systems the other carriers have been most recently touting. Verizon will also get mid-band 5G using dynamic spectrum sharing, splitting existing frequency bands with 4G, “probably during the third quarter of this year,” Hemmer says.

New “intelligent beamforming” software will help with range from the millimeter-wave base stations, Hemmer says. In early March, I estimated those have about an 800-foot radius right now. Fortunately, Verizon won’t need to do any more hardware swaps to increase its range, but it’s waiting on that software, she says, without giving a time frame for it to show up.

The Trucks Are Still Rolling

COVID-19 lockdowns present a unique challenge for wireless carriers and ISPs. Their work is considered essential—these are the networks the rest of us rely on for work and school. It turns out that in cities where Verizon’s crews can stay outside, laying fiber and planting millimeter-wave 5G hardware on lampposts and light poles, they’re actually finding it easier going because of clear streets. That’s the rollout style we’ve seen in Chicago and Providence.

“When we’re outside and we’re attaching to city furniture, for the most part we’re able to continue that work,” Hemmer says. “In some cases we have cities where the streets don’t have traffic on them … and a couple of cities have given us wider construction hours.”

But cities where the carrier needs access to building rooftops, such as I’ve seen in New York and Dallas, are more on hold to keep Verizon’s staff safe. Access to buildings can also be a problem when landlords are locked down or absent. “Right now we’re choosing not to put our employees inside multi-dwelling units,” Hemmer says.

That caution extends to testing and development labs as well. Hemmer says Verizon is doing as much “remote testing” as it can with its equipment providers to minimize the number of engineers it needs to send into the office. “We do have labs we own, and they go in every day, but we send in the minimum amount of people, we do deep cleaning, and we don’t have anyone flying in,” she says.

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The most recent data from our sibling company Ookla Speedtest shows that US internet networks are, by and large, holding up under the strain of the COVID-19 period. Fixed download speeds are down only 5 percent and mobile download speeds are down 3 percent over last month, Speedtest says on its blog

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