After raising eyebrows with a dismissive “we frankly don’t care” response to the merger of rivals T-Mobile and Sprint, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam used a second interview to detail the carrier’s 5G deployment plans for the year, including an interesting clarification on timing: Verizon now expects to launch its fixed 5G service “by the end of ’18.”
Only a week ago, Verizon said that it was “full steam ahead” for a 5G deployment in the “second half” of this year, but as the summer approaches, McAdam hinted to Geekwire that the launch won’t be happening imminently. “We’ve announced one city, Sacramento,” he said. “We have the others ready to announce, but we want to make sure that we get the equipment in and the fiber installed and that sort of thing, so we will be announcing more of them over the next several months.” Verizon’s hardware partner Samsung just received FCC approval for the first 5G home router, and notably requested confidentiality for manuals and other details through October 27.
McAdam also claimed that Verizon’s 5G development is far ahead of both rivals and initial expectations for the technology. While some people still believe that millimeter wave performs only at a 200-foot range within the transmitter’s line of sight, McAdam said that doubters have “missed the boat” on all the progress that’s been made over the past two years — and as a competitor, he’s happy about that. Massive MIMO antennas have “exponentially shifted the performance” of millimeter wave radios, he explained, enabling Verizon to space its small cells at 2,000-foot distances, “and we think it’s going to go even farther than that.”
The CEO also took the opportunity to clarify his remarks on the T-Mobile and Sprint merger, though he asserted again that “we don’t care” about whether regulators allow the merger to proceed. From a 5G perspective, he said, “[w]e’re going to do it regardless, and we’re way ahead of everybody. We’ve made all the investments that are required and fiber and millimeter wave spectrum and those sorts of things.” Verizon has been engaged in developing the 5G standard with foreign partners for years, he noted, and committed to being first.
But don’t confuse Verizon’s existing 5G plans and nonchalant attitude for a lack of interest in competing. “Competition will probably be different if they’re together,” he said, “but it’s still going to be a very competitive market, so we don’t care. It’ll take them two years, a year of approval and a year of integration, before they’re pointed into the wind, if you will, and we’re going to make the most out of those two years.”
Once T-Mobile emerges from the merger, McAdam says that 5G competition won’t be solely on price, but on network capabilities. “How many devices do you want to connect to the network? What sort of latency do you want to have? What sort of throughput do you want to have? … I think this is not going to be a competition on price as much as it’s going to be a competition on capability, and it’ll be capabilities that customers really want. That’s where the competitive environment is going to shift to.”
McAdam also spoke briefly on the contentious topic of net neutrality, which he suggested Verizon is committed to ensuring regardless of national regulations — albeit with a surprising caveat. “We have always said we’re never going to block your access to a website, we’re never going to provide paid prioritization,” he explained. “If that became the law of the land, Verizon would just sit here and say it’s about time you caught up. We’ve been there for five years.” But “[w]e would just love it to be consistent.” It’s one thing if each state passes a bill mimicking the prior national standard, but when states have different standards, “as a carrier that’s trying to provide consistent service for a consumer, that does become difficult. So that’s the only concern we have.”
Between empowering new technologies ranging from autonomous cars to remote medical procedures, 5G is going to radically change the world, McAdam said. “I’ve been in this business since the early ’80s, and this will be the biggest change in the way people live their lives that I’ve seen in my career. And remember, there wasn’t a cellphone when I started, let alone a smartphone.”