America’s largest cellular carrier, Verizon Wireless, has installed fixed 5G networking technology in over ten American cities. The company also confirmed to the source website that whilst it has installed the equipment, it “may not align” with the 5G technical standards that the 3GPP has yet to release. However, whilst Verizon’s current equipment might not meet the exact technical specification requirements, the operator confirmed it is using standardised equipment. Ericsson separately confirmed was providing this but neither company would confirm what American cities were partaking in the trial. At the end of 2016, the 3GPP completed sufficient work on the 5G standards project such that manufacturers and carriers knew enough to be able to use hardware that should conform to the final agreed standards, providing it could be reconfigured by software. This represents an important milestone for carriers all over the world as replacing hardware is significantly more expensive than a software update. A Verizon spokesperson explained the company “…expect a light lift from our pre-commercial phase, based on the Verizon 5GTF spec, into 3GPP standardized equipment.” In other words the carrier does not expect it will need to carry out extensive reworking once the 3GPP standards have been released. Furthermore, Verizon highlighted that should the company have to replace hardware, as this is a limited deployment of network nodes, it will not require that much effort.
Not everybody in the cellular industry shares Verizon Wireless’ optimism that the carrier will only need make minimal changes in order to ensure its network is compatible with the upcoming 3GPP 5G specification. In October 2016, Michael Thelander from Signals Research Group explained that there was no obvious migration path from Verizon’s 5G platform (5GTF) and the 5G standards still under development by the 3GPP. In the detail, Verizon’s 5G technology uses a subcarrier spacing of 75 kHz, which is not included in the 3GPP’s current 5G specification. It is unclear how readily adaptable Verizon and Ericsson’s technology is to adjust the subcarrier spacing to 75 kHz. Verizon’s networking standard is taken from the fixed 5G standard established by a group it helped form in 2015 also including Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. Verizon is planning to deploy commercial fixed 5G services later in the year.
With governments all over the world encouraging carriers to start deploying 5G networking technology as soon as possible, but there being no final networking standard available, carriers are facing a difficult position. Carriers need to deploy prototype 5G networks in order to gain experience in how the technology will work, but naturally do not with to finance a new expensive technology if it must be ripped out and replaced with new equipment, and if the prototype infrastructure is too different from the final version any information gleaned may not be relevant. This may explain why Verizon is only deploying its fixed 5G deployment to a limited number of cities.