Verizon Readies 5G Wireless Network Trials for 2016

The carrier wants to accelerate development of the next-generation technology even as work to improve 4G LTE continues.

5G Wireless Network

Verizon officials are getting ready to kick off field trials of 5G wireless technology in 2016 even as most consumers and businesses are still embracing 4G LTE.

The company announced Sept. 8 that it is working with a range of partners—including networking technology vendors Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Nokia Networks and chip makers Qualcomm and Samsung—to test 5G.

5G is expected to offer as much as 50 times the throughput of current 4G LTE and latency that will drop into the single milliseconds. In addition, it will play a significant role in the rapidly growing Internet of things (IoT), as the number of connected devices creating traffic over the world's wireless networks is expected to boom well into the future, Verizon officials said.

It is those types of benefits and challenges that are driving the telecommunication vendor's push to accelerate work on 5G.

"5G is no longer a dream of the distant future," Roger Gurnani, executive vice president and chief information and technology architect for Verizon, said in a statement. "We feel a tremendous sense of urgency to push forward on 5G and mobilize the ecosystem by collaborating with industry leaders and developers to usher in a new generation of innovation."

The world eventually will move to 5G, though there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the new cellular technology starts to make an impact. The 3GPP [3rd Generation Partner Project] group—which gave the go-ahead to the 4G LTE standard—in March rolled out a tentative timeline for 5G that doesn't show a standard for the technology being approved until 2020, though that hasn't stopped networking technology vendors and component makers from making moves to embrace the technology.

"When you're planning a technological evolution at this scale it must be a collaboration of players in the ecosystem," Marcus Weldon, CTO of Alcatel-Lucent and president of the company's Bell Labs, said in a statement. "Having Verizon initiate this effort now, even as 4G LTE technology has so much headroom left, will no doubt add to the rich fabric of our digital lives for many years to come."

Alcatel-Lucent is in the process of being bought by Nokia.

Verizon officials said they expect the development of 5G to follow that of 4G LTE, and for their company to follow a similar path that it used previously. The carrier established the Verizon Innovation program and opened Innovation centers in Waltham, Mass., and San Francisco to encourage other companies to work on 4G LTE and help accelerate the development and adoption of the technology. Verizon began building and testing 4G LTE in 2008 when it built a 10-cell network sandbox around Boston.

Company officials said the first 4G LTE data call came a year later, and Verizon launched its 4G LTE network in December 2010, covering 39 metropolitan areas and 60 airports.

More than 98 percent of people in the United States have access to 4G LTE and 87 percent of the data traffic for Verizon Wireless runs over the network, officials said.

Now the telco is taking the same approach with 5G. It is building 5G sandboxes in both Massachusetts and San Francisco, hoping to create a highly collaborative environment. However, Verizon's Gurnani noted that even as the carrier works on 5G, it still is investing heavily in improving its 4G LTE networks.

That is needed, according to analysts with IHS Infonetics, who said that despite the attention 5G is getting, there is still much to do to improve 4G LTE performance.

"We are slowly but surely moving to true 4G, and that's good news," Stephane Teral, research director for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at IHS, said in a statement in July. "However, most users already believe they are on 4G, and that's the bad news because the experience is far from consistent and is falling short of expectations. How many times does your smartphone display LTE or 4G and you still see the infamous spinning wheel?"

Teral said the debate around 5G "has started with great fanfare, hype and confusion, but little substance about what it is exactly and what it is not. For now, the mindset is still locked into mobile broadband as we know it with LTE."