People who depend on their smartphones for mobile internet access might have guessed Verizon was upgrading its network in large cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago before the announcement of XLTE this week. Verizon didn’t just turn on XLTE today; it’s been testing for months.
Attendees at the RSA Conference in San Francisco last February noticed much faster LTE speeds, which was counterintuitive to the typical conference-going experience. Usually, the larger the crowd at a huge event like RSA means more network congestion. At the Moscone Center for the RSA Conference, Verizon customers with an AWS-compatible smartphone saw LTE speeds at 53 Mbps downstream and 24 Mbps upstream and faster. Typically, data-hungry attendees at tech venues like the Moscone Center use up the Wi-Fi capacity first, and then flood the 3G and 4G capacity.
Verizon published a list (pdf) of the locations that will or have been upgraded, all in urban areas. XLTE uses spectrum in the AWS band in the 1700 to 2100-Mhz band, compared to the lower-frequency 700 Mhz band. XLTE is really designed for cities because it doesn’t have the distance range of the lower frequencies but can serve more subscribers in a given area. The shorter distance range is no disadvantage in a city where subscriber density requires more antennae.
Both frequency bands will remain in use. The shifting of newer smartphones to the higher AWS frequencies reduces the congestion for smartphones in the lower frequencies in two ways. The shift opens both raw bandwidth and concurrent connection capacity. Because the AWS cells are smaller, more AWS antennas and base stations are used to cover a given area, increasing the total number of concurrent user connections.
Verizon customers in large cities started to experience congestion in larger cities as cell sites ran out of head room. A year ago, Fran Shammo, EVP and CFO, Verizon was upfront and admitted (pdf) that in some parts of the U.S. Verizon was experiencing capacity problems, and explained this plan.
Verizon has been clever, acquiring spectrum ahead of time. As spectrum-consuming mobile data explodes, per Cisco’s forecast, Verizon and its competitors will need to be increasingly proactive in acquiring spectrum if they are to stay ahead of the curve.