Miles of Light

Verizon to Buy Miles of Fibre for Fixed-Line and Wireless Services

Last week, Verizon announced a multi-year deal with Corning to acquire large amounts of fibre-optic cable. The carrier will buy up to 20 million kilometres (12.4 million miles) of optical fibre each year starting in 2018, with a minimum purchase commitment of $1.05 billion. In February 2017, Verizon completed its $1.8 billion purchase of another fibre-optic business, XO Communications.

Initially Verizon said it would use the fibre to build out its fixed-line FiOS offering for Internet, video and voice services. The carrier provides its fibre-based services to 5.7 million households along parts of the east coast of the US and is currently building out fixed-line fibre services in the Boston area, working with local municipalities to update an aged copper-based infrastructure.

However, fibre is becoming an increasingly important part of 5G deployment strategies. Verizon won’t bring fibre to every home in the US, but it does plan to offer it to almost every neighbourhood supporting a high-speed fixed-wireless architecture.

In the US, there’s a battle for 5G bragging rights among carriers. Verizon and its major rivals — AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — are racing to deploy 5G network equipment capable of handling much more traffic at speeds that are 10 to 40 times faster than current 4G networks. Although standards for the technology aren’t complete, Verizon is already testing a 5G fixed-wireless service with equipment manufacturer Ericsson in 11 US markets and expects a commercial launch as early as 2018.

But, given the spectrum, 5G signals won’t travel as far as 4G transmissions, driving the need for tens of thousands of smaller cell sites that will be connected to the backbone through fibre. The small cells — small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand — will be placed on accessible structures such as street lamps and traffic lights. This compares with larger 2G, 3G and 4G base stations, which are often placed on top of buildings or dedicated towers.

A fixed-mobile convergence strategy will allow Verizon to compete in more parts of the US with fixed-line service providers that have a much larger presence, including Charter and Comcast. Verizon plans to offer fixed-line speeds by beaming 5G signals from small cell sites to rooftop antennas.

The carrier currently has 13,000 small sites for sub-5G services compared with about 60,000 cell tower sites. Verizon said it plans to add 8,000 to 10,000 small sites in each major city indicating an installation of hundreds of thousands of sites during the coming years.

This will be a major investment for Verizon that will allow it to support both consumer fixed-wireless and mobility services. But the carrier also envisions this network enabling smart cities and low-latency implementations including autonomous driving.

This single-network aspiration will be a disruption for traditional broadcasters if it reaches fruition, but Verizon and other carriers have a long road ahead of them. For now, this is one guiding light forward.