Verizon 5G DSS isn't the 5G you want

There's the ultra-high-speed Verizon advertises, which is available only in a few urban spaces, and then there's Verizon's 5G-speed Dynamic Spectrum Sharing 5G, which is available almost everywhere.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

5G is confusing. It's not one technology that will bring you gigabit-per-second-speeds and sub-10-millisecond latency. 5G's actually three different network approaches. Only one of these -- millimeter-wave (mmWave) -- can give you gigabit speeds. Verizon, under the name 5G Ultra-Wideband, leads in US mmWave deployment. But the company also muddied the water by introducing yet another 5G approach: Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS). Verizon 5G DSS performance is pretty much the same as you're getting from Verizon 4G LTE.

So, before you buy a new 5G phone, make sure you know exactly what you're getting. Almost no Verizon customers will see 5G Ultra Wideband's speeds. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg praises 5G Ultra-Wideband network, which is now available in 55 cities, 43 stadiums, and 7 airports.

What Vestberg doesn't mention is that the 5G Ultra-Wideband has a range of about 150 meters. And its 24GHz and 28GHz bands can barely transmit through window glass. Unless you're almost on top of a mmWave transceiver with a clear line of sight, you won't get greater speed, latency, or throughput. 

Verizon's 5G DSS, which Verizon claims is already in 1,800+ markets and covers over 200 million people, has the same range but -- and here's the bad news -- speed and throughput of the Verizon 4G LTE you're already using.

A Verizon spokesperson explained:

Our nationwide coverage layer of 5G was never meant to compete on speed or capacity with our keenly differentiated and powerful 5G Ultra Wideband network. Initially, customers should expect our 5G Nationwide network to perform similarly to our award-winning 4G LTE network. Performance and coverage will continue to grow over time."

So, why do it? Well, first it's marketing. When you hear "5G," you think you're going to get all that super-fast speed and ultra-low latency. The reality is you're not. 

That's going to tick users off when they realize that their pricey 5G smartphone gets exactly the same performance as their brother's old 4G LTE model. But, Verizon added, there are some benefits from DSS. 

Most of these, however, make life better for Verizon, not for users. For example, by enabling 5G service to run simultaneously with 4G LTE on multiple spectrum bands, Verizon can use its full portfolio of spectrum resources to serve both 4G and 5G customers.

How does that work? Without DSS, when Verizon or any other mobile telephony company has 20MHz of spectrum, it must split the spectrum in two. For example, 10MHz would go to 4G LTE, while the rest goes to 5G. Since, for now, there's far more 4G LTE customers than 5G users that's a real waste of spectrum. With DSS, an operator doesn't have to split it up. Instead, Verizon can dynamically share that 20MHz between 4G LTE and 5G DSS. Or, as Verizon puts it, "It uses spectrum much more efficiently so customers have access to all of Verizon's spectrum holdings – not just a portion of our spectrum."

How do they do it? Verizon's representative wouldn't go into any detail, but they did say DSS is "built with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technology which allows for faster response time to meet the dynamically changing needs of our customers." We also know that Verizon is building its 5G platform on top of OpenStack clouds while running applications in Kubernetes orchestrated containers. This would include the 5G DSS software. 

On the edge, which is where 5G is being deployed, Verizon is using the Open Infrastructure Foundation's StarlingX, OpenStack cloud infrastructure software stack for the edge. This, in turn, is the basis for Wind River's Cloud Platform. Verizon uses this to manage its virtual radio access networks (vRANs) and core data center sites. For hardware on the edge, Verizon's using Samsung's 5G vRAN hardware and Intel's Xeon Scalable processor, FPGA acceleration card, Ethernet network adapter, and its FlexRAN software reference architecture.

For users, all that means is that the one good thing 5G DSS customers will see is better latency. Specifically, "Customers accessing 5G using DSS will be able to take advantage of Verizon's edge computing platforms which bring the power of the cloud nearer to users, drastically reducing the time it takes for data to make a round trip from point A to point B." In particular, Verizon specific services will be more responsive. 

That's all well and good, but the bottom line remains that 5G's hype for consumers is all about all speed, and 5G DSS doesn't deliver -- and never will deliver -- on that promise. MmWave, which will only be limited to cities and large indoor spaces, is the only technology that will bring you Gigabit speeds anytime soon. 

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