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Live in a rural area? Verizon 5G is about to get better for you

Later this year, Verizon wants to extend the coverage of its faster 5G Ultra Wideband network outside urban and suburban centres, enhancing performance for people in those areas and propelling the expansion of its fixed wireless access (FWA) internet services.

In this week’s quarterly earnings call, Verizon CEO Hans Vestburg touched on these specifics and praised the carrier’s quick development of its C-band coverage to reach 200 million people in just over a year “since we lit up the first site.”

While doing so has cost the carrier an additional $10 billion in capital expenditures, on top of the $45 billion it already spent to license the spectrum, Vestburg notes that it is paying off in the form of “new sources of revenue growth” as customers upgrade to the newest 5G-capable phones to take advantage of the faster 5G Ultra Wideband network.

Vestburg added that when more traffic moves to the more recent C-band spectrum, older phones that don’t yet enable 5G can use the airwaves. Customers on Verizon’s 4G/LTE network are also reporting faster speeds.

“Where we offer C-band, […] we see benefits for 4G customers as we offload traffic to our 5G Ultra Wideband network in some markets.” Performance gains will continue as 5G penetration increases market by market, according to Vestburg.

Bringing fast 5G to the countryside

While Verizon still lags behind T-Mobile in mid-band 5G coverage, it’s not sitting still. Responding to a question about the carrier’s fixed wireless 5G services during the Q&A portion of the call, Vestburg noted that as things stand now, Verizon’s C-band spectrum only covers “70 markets out of over 400.”

While those 70 markets account for 60% of the U.S. population, the carrier sees a lot of untapped potential in the remaining 330 markets that have yet to get C-band. At this stage, Vestburg says Verizon is waiting until later this year when it’s expected to get its “next chunk of C-band” from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It’s also expected to speed up its current C-band deployments to full power after coming to terms with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year on measures to minimise interference with aircraft equipment.

Although 60% of the U.S. population resides in just 70 locations, the carrier believes that the remaining 330 markets, which do not currently have C-band service, have a lot of unrealized potential. Verizon is currently delaying its plans until later this year, when it is anticipated to receive its “next chunk of C-band” from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), according to Vestburg. After reaching an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year on methods to prevent interference with aviation equipment, it is also anticipated to accelerate its current C-band installations to full power.

While Vestburg didn’t disclose how many of the extra 330 areas Verizon aims to cover by the end of this year, the carrier has its work cut out for it if it wants to catch up to rival T-Mobile, which has promised that its 5G Ultra Capacity network will reach 300 million people by that time.

More 5G in your home

Verizon also hopes to expand its fixed wireless 5G service footprint to the most necessary areas by utilising the rural C-band expansion. That is, 5G service you can use for your home internet.

Presently, Verizon’s 5G internet services are available to only 40 million households, or around 20% of individuals served by its 5G Ultra Wideband network. But the business only has a little over 2 million FWA subscribers.

It’s not surprising that there hasn’t been much adoption in those areas given that Verizon’s 5G FWA coverage is still only available in urban areas, where its own fiber-optic Fios services are widely accessible. Despite the fact that 5G fixed wireless access is quickly improving, it still cannot match the performance of premium cable and fibre broadband offerings.

Despite Vestburg’s evasiveness regarding the specifics of Verizon’s plans to roll out its 5G FWA services, it appears that the carrier considers this initiative to be of sufficient importance that it will likely start its new C-band spectrum push in suburban and rural areas that are currently underserved by traditional wired broadband providers. In an effort to persuade more customers to cut the cord and choose home or business internet offered through 5G, this will give 5G FWA a distinct advantage over the incumbent services.