Verizon is collaborating with Oracle to boost its 5G Ultra Wideband (UWB) platform and close the gap with AT&T in subscriber numbers and with T-Mobile USA in 5G performance.
The partnership will focus on both consumer and industrial applications, and Verizon will exploit Oracle’s recent adoption of UWB at its Oracle Industry Laboratory near Chicago. Partners and customers of both companies are invited to create and test 5G use cases in the Lab, including industrial applications in robotics, process control, drones and other unattended automated vehicles (UAVs), as well as consumer services such as gaming and video streaming.
There is overlap in fundamental technologies between the consumer and industrial sectors, for example in vision, which underpins gaming and robotics, and extended reality (XR), applicable in media entertainment and digital twinning.
Oracle’s EVP of vertical industries, Mike Sicilia, highlighted sustainability as one of the challenges uniting not just different vertical sectors, but enterprise and consumer applications, given growing concerns in all quarters over the last few years. “As we tackle issues such as sustainability, smarter manufacturing and creating more resilient energy and water systems, it will take an ecosystem worth of experience and ideas to bring viable solutions to life,” said Sicilia. “Without question, 5G will be fundamental to these developments, and we are honored to be working with Verizon to help power the future of industries.”
Such lofty sentiments may be commonplace, but Sicilia seemed genuinely keen to underline the positive role carriers can play in the emerging private 5G field, as well as the consumer space over public cellular, by enabling high speed, secure and where relevant low latency communications.
The two companies are touting several tangible use cases for broad evaluation at the Oracle site, including ability for construction firms to combine laser scanning from drones with building information management models to work on scale replicas of sites at the planning or early design stage. The use of 5G in combination with IoT sensors and monitors as part of larger scale city development projects can also be assessed at the site.
For Verizon this is welcome endorsement of UWB, which has had mixed fortunes ever since its inception as a high-speed fixed and mobile service in millimeter wave spectrum. This was initially marketed enthusiastically as ‘true 5G’, offering unprecedented speeds while its rivals were stuck mostly with midband offerings. In the event, Verizon’s 5G service ended up being caught between two rather less comfortable stools – UWB delivering high speed, but poorer coverage than had been hoped, and its 5G Nationwide, available in most of the country over low-band sub-GHz spectrum, offering coverage but performance on a par with 4G.
Meanwhile, Verizon’s rivals, especially T-Mobile USA, were scoring with midband 5G services that offered a significant increase in performance over 4G with considerable coverage. The problem for Verizon was that the primary use case originally touted for mmWave, high performance and capacity in urban environment, turned out to require even greater densification than had been expected, except in locations where line-of-sight or close to it could be achieved quite widely.
Some operators are finding that mmWave is most suitable for fixed wireless access (FWA) services where terrain is relatively flat, even when distances to subscribers are larger, because then line-of-sight can be combined with beamforming to target individual antennas on rooftops. Verizon originally launched mmWave 5G in fixed mode and is still targeting FWA with some success, notching up 194,000 customers in the first quarter of 2022, enabling it to report total broadband net additions of 229,000, the operator’s highest such gain in over a decade, according to its CFO Matt Ellis.
Verizon appears to be using C-band spectrum and the Ericsson Cradlepoint W1850 5G Wideband Adapter for FWA connectivity. But this adapter is being incorporated into Verizon’s UWB network, which now combines mmWave with its C-band spectrum, acquired in 2021. That means more mmWave capacity could be reserved for FWA, while the aggregation of C-band and UWB will help Verizon fill in that gap between mmWave and low-band spectrum, to compete more effectively with its rivals in coverage and speed.
It is worth noting that mmWave coverage has proved a problem for all carriers in dense urban environments, not just Verizon. Testing from London-based analytics firm Opensignal found that users in the USA were connected to mmWave 5G less than 1% of the time, irrespective of the carrier. This means that for the immediate future at least, mmWave is relegated to the status of junior partner in Verizon’s UWB duopoly, with the emphasis on C-band for services requiring or benefiting from elevated speeds and capacity.
This was clear at MWC22 Barcelona, where Verizon announced detailed plans for an initially small-scale trial of +play, its direct-to-consumer (D2C) TV platform including content from Netflix, Apple, ESPN and Discovery+ as part of its premium unlimited data tariff. If successful, this trial could help Verizon gain consumer customers on the back of 5G given the growing subscription fatigue in the video streaming field.
This has come about because major content houses such as Disney, Comcast’s NBC Universal and AT&T’s Warner, have pulled assets back to their own streaming platform in an intensifying battle for custom that contributed to the fall in subscribers and recent share price collapse for Netflix. If Verizon succeeds in providing a single portal to Netflix, Disney+, Discovery+ and others, this could be a significant draw.
As Verizon noted at MWC 2022, the bandwidth implications would have made such a move unthinkable before 5G.