Cents per gig 230Lee Hicks, Verizon Vice President - Network Planning, reiterated that Verizon has been reducing cost per bit by about 40% per year and expected to continue to do so. That corresponds to then-CEO Lowell McAdam's comment that mmWave would bring down the cost per bit by 9/10ths. Verizon's profit and loss confirms this general trend: costs and profits haven't changed much while traffic growth remains high. That would be impossible without a large increase in efficiency.

Traffic growth is falling towards 30%, according to the Cisco VNI. Unless capex falls, the glut of capacity without a market will get worse. 

Verizon expects to save half by replacing ~20,000 old routers, etc. with new, more efficient, standardized gear. They are active in SDN/NFV, including some pioneering work. CEO Hans Vestberg said that 5G equipment prices are coming down so fast it can afford to cover "the whole country" in much less than ten years. (Comments like that usually mean 85% to 95%.) He hated the price drops when he was at Ericsson and loves them now that he is at Verizon. All telcos are seeing dramatic falls in costs.

The other U.S. and Canadian telcos are also seeing a decline. The implications include:

  • Price per bit will go down almost everywhere for the foreseeable future. With cost per bit going down 75% in a few years, some of that will be passed on to customers. 
    Traffic growth is slowing, with Cisco estimating wireless growth will fall to 30%/year.
    Ergo: The current excess capacity will continue and possibly worsen.
  • With data costs now very low, even the average price per customer has been falling where competition is working. (~60% in India, ~5% in the U.S., something like 15% in Italy as Xavier Niel deploys.)
  • The drop in wireless cost will be extremely important in India, Indonesia, and Africa. There are few landlines so almost all net connections are wireless. Until now, with lower prices and rising caps, most Internet sucked. With 225M 4G connections at Reliance Jio alone, India now has more Internet connections than the U.S. has people. Africa is close, despite two very disappointing years.
  • The cost per bit of wireless is now low enough for lots of video. I don't watch much TV, so a 30-100 gigabyte service would cover me. Jennie is a TV watcher, so it will be a few years before wireless would be enough for her.
  • There has been a modest trend to going wireless only for several years, rarely more than 10% in the developed world. This is less than expected; I mistakenly predicted a faster shift.
  • The claim in the T-Mobile-Sprint merger that prices will go down will almost certainly prove out. However, T-Mobile-Sprint will almost certainly result in higher prices than without the deal. 
  • Reporters will often l get this wrong, one reason a very anti-consumer merger might go through. 

Thanks to Adtran, who covered my expenses to hear Lee and others at Adtran Connect

Follow-up story: To achieve these savings, Hicks is replacing ~20,000 major pieces of equipment, especially routers. He is consolidating Verizon's several networks into one, which will require far less hardware and space. He expects to save half fron the beginning. Savings will get larger from there.

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 

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 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.