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Verizon and Other Cellular Companies Promise Ultra-fast Internet Services

T-Mobile and Sprint want to jointly create a 5G network that would also offer residential wireless broadband, but not for a few years.

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This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the logo for Verizon above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Cellular companies such as Verizon are looking to challenge traditional cable companies with residential internet service that promises to be ultra-fast, affordable and wireless. Using an emerging wireless technology known as 5G, Verizon’s 5G Home service provides an alternative to cable for connecting laptops, phones, TVs and other devices over Wi-Fi. It launches in four U.S. cities on Monday VOA

Cellular companies such as Verizon are looking to challenge traditional cable companies with residential internet service that promises to be ultra-fast, affordable and wireless.

Using an emerging wireless technology known as 5G, Verizon’s 5G Home service provides an alternative to cable for connecting laptops, phones, TVs and other devices over Wi-Fi. It launches in four U.S. cities on Monday.

Verizon won’t be matching cable companies on packages that also come with TV channels and home phone service. But fewer people have been subscribing to such bundles anyway, as they embrace streaming services such as Netflix for video and cellphone services instead of landline.

“That’s the trend that cable has been having problems with for several years, and a trend that phone companies can take advantage of,” Gartner analyst Bill Menzes said.

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Internet companies support an economy-wide, national approach to regulation that protects the privacy of all Americans. VOA

That’s if the wireless companies can offer a service that proves affordable and effective.

T-Mobile and Sprint are also planning a residential 5G service as part of their merger proposal, though few details are known.

Verizon’s broadband-only service will cost $70 a month, with a $20 discount for Verizon cellular customers. According to Leichtman Research Group, the average price for broadband internet is about $60, meaning only some customers will be saving money.

Even so, Verizon can try to win over some customers with promises of reliability.

Verizon says its service will be much faster than cable. That means downloading a two-hour movie in high definition in two minutes rather than 21. The service promises to let families play data-intensive games and watch video on multiple devices at once, with little or no lag.

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A man explores social media on a computer at an internet club in Islamabad, Pakistan,VOA

“The things that really matter to a customer are how fast it is and how reliable it is,” longtime telecom analyst Dave Burstein said. In tests of Verizon’s 5G so far, he said, “reliability is proving out quite nicely.”

Verizon could also capitalize on many people’s frustration with their cable companies. Consumer Reports magazine says customers have long been unhappy with perceived weak customer service, high prices and hidden fees.

The residential 5G service is part of a broader upgrade in wireless technology.

Verizon has spent billions of dollars for rights to previously unused radio waves at the high end of the frequency spectrum. It’s a short-range signal, ideal for city blocks and apartment buildings, but less so for sprawling suburbs or rural communities. That’s why Verizon is pushing residential service first, while AT&T is building a more traditional cellular network for people on the go, using radio waves at the lower end.

AT&T is aiming to launch its 5G mobile network this year in 12 cities, including Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina. Dish also has plans for a 5G network, but it’s focused on connecting the so-called “Internet of Things,” everything from laundry machines to parking meters, rather than cellphones or residential broadband.

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Retired teacher Margarita Marquez, 67, uses the internet after it was recently installed at her home in old Havana, Cuba, Dec. 29, 2016.
(VOA)

Sprint tried to introduce residential wireless service before, using a technology called WiMax, but it failed to gain many subscribers as LTE trumped WiMax as the dominant cellular technology. This time, Verizon is using the same 5G technology that will eventually make its way into 5G cellular networks.

The Verizon service will start in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, California.

“These are small areas but significant,” said Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon Wireless. “Tens of thousands of homes, not hundreds of thousands of homes.” Eventually, Verizon projects 30 million homes in the U.S. will be eligible, though there’s no timeline.

For now, Verizon isn’t planning to hit markets where it already has its cable-like Fios service. Verizon stopped expanding Fios around 2010, in part because it was expensive to dig up streets and lay fiber-optic lines. Verizon can build 5G more cheaply because it can use the same towers available for cellular service.

That said, Verizon might not recoup its costs if it ends up drawing only customers who stand to save money over cable, said John Horrigan, a broadband expert at the Technology Policy Institute.

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FILE – Students surf the internet in their dorm room at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., April 24. (VOA)

And while Verizon says the new network will be able to handle lots of devices at once, anyone who’s tried to use a phone during concerts and conferences will know that the airwaves can get congested quickly.

What Verizon’s service won’t do is extend high-speed internet access to rural America, where many households can’t get broadband at all, let alone competition. Cable and other companies haven’t found it profitable to extend wires to remote parts of the country. But Verizon will face the same problem, given that its short-range signal will require several wireless towers closer together. That’s feasible only in densely populated areas.

That’s not good enough, said Harold Feld, senior vice president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge. He said internet service at reasonable prices is “fundamental” for all Americans — not just those who live in populated areas.

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T-Mobile and Sprint want to jointly create a 5G network that would also offer residential wireless broadband, but not for a few years. In seeking regulatory approval, the companies say 20 percent to 25 percent of subscribers will be in rural areas that have limited access to broadband. But the companies offered no details on how they would do so. T-Mobile and Sprint declined to comment. (VOA)

Next Story

Lack of Internet Access Hobbling West Virginians

In the town of Hinton, a 30-minute drive from Sprouting Farms, connectivity is not an issue

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Hand-picked organic kale is washed and packed on site at Sprouting Farms, W.V., ready for distribution. (J. Taboh/VOA). VOA

Work starts early at Sprouting Farms in Summers County, West Virginia.

Employees in this rural region of the state handpick the organic produce, rinse, prepare and box it up on site, ready to distribute to area customers.

Connectivity is key

The farm also serves as a training center for aspiring farmers who want to learn how to grow — and market — sustainable produce.

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The hills and valleys of West Virginia make it difficult to run fiber optic cable. VOA

The challenge is making that process profitable, says project director Fritz Boettner.

“Our bottom line, everything that we do here, is to make farming a profitable business for every farmer, not just on this farm, but every farmer in the state,” he says. “So in order to improve the bottom line for the farmer, we have to keep what I would call the food hub costs down. So that’s the cost of aggregation, distribution, marketing, all those things.”

And that, he adds, takes broadband connectivity, which is limited or unavailable in rural areas such as this.

“Right now I would say half of our farmers maybe do not have access to solid internet or even cellphone communication to make these types of transactions happen,” he says.

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And while there is fiber-optic cable available nearby, it would cost Boettner $500 a month, plus a $3,000 installation fee, to access it — a price, he says, that’s simply too expensive for small businesses like his.

“It’s just frustrating to know that very high-speed internet exists right down the road at a public school, and it can’t find its way here,” he says. “And I’m sure in West Virginia, in these small rural towns like this, it’s like this everywhere.”

The magic of broadband

In the town of Hinton, a 30-minute drive from Sprouting Farms, connectivity is not an issue.

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The town of Hinton, West Virginia has a number of flourishing businesses, thanks to high-speed internet connectivity. VOA

Once a thriving railroad community, the town now depends on high-speed internet to connect with the outside world.

Ken Allman, who owns several businesses in the area, says his main online business venture,which connects hospitals and physicians around the world, would not exist without that access.

“The fact that our team of people in Hinton, West Virginia, are working with people in Mumbai, India, or in Tel Aviv, Israel, to solve problems in our field across the U.S. speaks to the magic of what broadband and mobile can do in a small community,” he says.

Fiber of the community

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The town is a perfect example of adaptation.

“Hinton wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the railroad in the 1870s,” Allman says. “The railroad was the broadband of the time. It brought the mail, it brought the people, it brought the cargo. It was the broadband of the time.”

Now broadband is the fiber-optic cable that runs through the community and makes commerce possible.

“It’s very difficult to operate a business without reliable broadband,” Allman says. “We require it to support our back office functions, as well as the services we deliver to our clients. … We also need mobile to support our people while they’re trying to do their jobs.

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Organic kale is hand picked, washed and packed on site at Sprouting Farms, West Virginia, for retail and wholesale. VOA

“It’s very difficult to operate a business without reliable broadband, without reliable mobile communications as well,” he says. “The two really complement each other, and you need them in order to function on a day-to-day basis.”

An essential part of modern life

Joe Brouse agrees.

As executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, his job is to help stimulate and promote economic development in the region.

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But he says lack of connectivity is hindering that objective.

“This problem with coverage is affecting everyone,” he says. “I mean, it’s an ecosystem. You have to have businesses, they have to have employees, employees have to have places to live, and parents have to have good schools for their children. Part of being a good school in this day and age is having access to broadband.

“So businesses expect it. Households expect it. If people want to live here, they need to have access. It’s an aspect of being in the modern world.”

Hills and valleys