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Verizon is notorious within the industry for being tight-lipped about its plans, but the carrier on Friday opened up about its upcoming pre-commercial 5G trials in an interview with Wireless Week. And yes, they shared pretty much everything you want to know.

The setup

According to Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s vice president of network technology planning, the carrier’s pre-commercial fixed wireless 5G trials will encompass a “few hundred” 5G radio nodes in around 10 different locations across the country. Those locations will include those in the four states previously unearthed in FCC filings, as well as several other locations utilizing spectrum from the XO Communications transaction. Several of the node locations will overlap with existing 4G LTE node locations, he said.

Koeppe explained the 5G radio nodes will provide enough coverage to blanket several thousand homes, but noted the carrier only expects the number of users in the trial to be in the “mid-hundreds.” Within the node footprint, Koeppe said Verizon will proactively go into the user community and ask for volunteers to participate in the trial. Those who elect to participate will receive prototype devices that will allow them to access the Internet via the 5G radio connection and go ahead with whatever over-the-top consumption they want to do over that connection.

Verizon is targeting a diverse set of users in these trials, Koeppe said, including residential, commercial, and retail users. Koeppe noted the number of participants will be limited by the amount of experiment equipment Verizon has to use for the tests, which will be supplied by Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung. But within the test group Koeppe said Verizon is also planning to incorporate diverse receiver/transceiver setups with distances ranging anywhere from 100 feet to 6,000 feet and with varying population levels, geography, and obstructions.

Probably the most important thing here is we’re moving out of the very controlled field technical trials we had done earlier in the year,” Koeppe said. “It’s a meaningful pre-commercial phase. We’re past the one-off use cases, so this is very much focused on an actual deployable product so that we can prove the viability of the solution … While the propagation characteristics of these spectrum bands are well knonw – they’ve been used for quite some time now – in the real world environment we want to then prove out, you know, what impact does foliage have, what impact does home construction have … the ability to provide a home broadband experience with a reliable service offering.”

The spectrum

As mentioned in the FCC filings, Koeppe confirmed the tests will utilize 28 GHz spectrum. And he said there are a few good reasons the carrier has landed on that band out of the others being considered and utilized in 5G testing by both itself and other carriers.

According to Koeppe, the 28 GHz band landed at the top of Verizon’s list first because of two obvious factors: the FCC’s recent decision to open that swath alongside 37 GHz and 39 GHz for licensed 5G use and the carrier’s deal with XO Communications that gave it the ability to lease 28 GHz spectrum in multiple markets around the country.

But Koeppe also said the band was favored because some of Verizon’s technical partners were already at work building 28 GHz-capable equipment for the upcoming 2018 Olympic games in Asia.

However, just because Verizon is sticking with 28 GHz for now, that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

“I expect our process will evolve to stay really tightly aligned with the FCC’s actions in this space,” Koeppe said. “So, logically, moving from 28 (GHz) to 37 (GHz) to 39 (GHz) and then whatever comes next.”

The timeline

Koeppe indicated Verizon expects to spend the majority of the next year proving the viability of its fixed wireless solution, with the bulk of the testing conducted between the beginning and middle of the year. As the trials proceed throughout 2017, he said, Verizon may extend or expand its testing. Right now, though, there is no finite date for the end of the trials, he said.

What about fully mobile 5G?

Not yet – but Verizon will be ready when the standards are.

“The pre-commercial stage for us is absolutely focused on fixed wireless,” Koeppe said. “If you think a little more broadly outside of the fixed wireless work we’re doing right now and look forward to the multitude of technical advancements that will be 5G, having mobility in that equation while also having millimeter wave spectrum in that equation is going to require a very tight tie to 4G LTE-Advanced. There’s work to do certainly within the standards bodies, there’s work to do on the technical front to really define that and make that work – and we’re a part of that process, obviously. I would expect that sometime during 2017 that process will evolve and then if there’s a way to fit mobility testing into what we’re doing, we’ll be able to do so pretty easily.”

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