Shock! Verizon Says it Will Launch Commercial 5G Service by 2017

Now this comes as a bit of a shock: Verizon Wireless, which has been very quiet in public about fifth generation (5G) networks, suddenly has come into the open, and with an aggressive potential timetable.

One Verizon executive says Verizon will begin field trials of 5G technology within the next year, with plans for start of commercial service, in some form, in 2017.

If you recall the introduction of Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G, you remember that the first emphasis was on mobile data access, not phones, simply because suppliers had not yet produced them in mass quantities, and one initial early adopter segment were users who wanted much-faster access for their personal computers.

Since it is highly possible the full set of 5G standards will not be fully ratified by 2017, Verizon might be in a pre-5G mode, operating a commercial service that will appeal most to some user segments whose business cases are insensitive to use of a “pre-standard” but largely compliant deployment scenario.

That apparently sudden commitment to very-early 5G commercial deployment likely was quite deliberate, and not in any way a rushed decision.

Those of you with some knowledge of Verizon history will recall the major bet Verizon made on fiber to the home (FiOS), as well as its aggressive embrace of fourth generation mobile networks.

Though some might argue Verizon has seen greater financial returns from the mobile network modernization than from FiOS, prompting what some argue was a “U.S. lead” in 4G commercialization, rapid adoption of what it believes to be a superior technology platform is very much part of Verizon’s understanding of its position in the U.S. market, and its basic strategy, which is to lead in the area of platforms and platform-based quality.

Roger Gurnani, chief information and technology architect for Verizon, said he  expects "some level of commercial deployment" to begin by 2017”. That's far earlier than the time frame of 2020 that many in the industry have pegged for the initial adoption of 5G technology.

Other mobile providers also have said they will launch commercial service as well.

So Verizon isn't alone in its early embrace of 5G. South Korea hopes its wireless carriers can deploy a trial 5G network in 2018, in time for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Japan hopes to have a 5G network running in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The Chinese government, meanwhile, has also pushed for the aggressive deployment of 5G technology.

For some of us, the importance of those initiatives is far greater than simply the early deployment of the next generation of mobile networks. After all, the global mobile business launches a new next generation network about once a decade.

If you date LTE commercialization to 2009, then 2019 would be about the time that the next generation network was mass deployed.

You might doubt Verizon can move that fast. It has done so in the past, though. When it said in 2008 it was going to commercialized 4G LTE, Verizon launched service in 2010.

So using its own 4G launch as the start date, 10 years would be 2020. But Verizon might think there are reasons to move faster. Leadership in marketing wars can't be discounted.

But the range of new apps and network-based features expected to happen will be so vastly different that Verizon might want more time to get such apps developed on its platform.

So initial service, on something less than full national deployment for every segment, with a robust set of end user devices and rich set of applications, would be expected on about the time frame planned by Korean, Japanese, Chinese carriers and Verizon.

What is more noteworthy is that 5G appears well on the way to becoming more than a mere radio interface for mobile operators. It seems 5G will represent part of a major shift in the design and operation of core networks, with major new classes of applications, potential new business models and competitive implications for other access networks and providers.

The stunning advances in latency performance and bandwidth, while sure to grab the headlines, obscure those other vast changes.

For service providers, the full suite of changes might represent the start of a new era of programmable networks and services that move far beyond bandwidth on demand.

For users of those networks, the most profound differences might not be experienced directly by people, but by organizations operating many different kinds of sensor networks, or applications and business processes that benefit from real-time telemetry.
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