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Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband to roll out in 46 cities

Verizon plans to roll out its faster 5G Ultra Wideband service to 46 US cities later this month. But contentious negotiations with the FAA threaten the service's timing.

Verizon plans to roll out its 5G Ultra Wideband service to nearly four dozen cities later this month, amid contentious negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is investigating whether the service poses a danger to air traffic.

The Ultra Wideband spectrum operates at a higher frequency than Verizon's existing 5G service to deliver much higher speeds and power. The current service isn't much faster than Verizon's older 4G LTE network.

Verizon said this week it expects to roll out the service to 46 U.S. cities and their surrounding areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, sometime later this month. The carrier has not announced a specific date.

The actual rollout will depend on negotiations with the FAA. The agency is investigating concerns by the aircraft industry that Ultra Wideband's spectrum, called C-band, would interfere with equipment used to navigate commercial aircraft.

Verizon and AT&T initially planned to start rolling out 5G services on Dec. 5 but agreed to a 30-day delay requested by the FAA to study the potential impact on aircraft safety. The carriers recently agreed to an additional two-week delay to give the FAA more time.

The goal of Verizon's latest announcement may be to put public pressure on the FAA, Gartner analyst Bill Menezes said. Verizon might want to use the statement to highlight the benefits of Ultra Wideband to generate public support.

However, Verizon could find it difficult to interest consumers because only a quarter of the 100 million people living in the coverage areas have devices to use the service, Menezes said. "They're trying to get excitement generated, [but] the actual impact is going to be limited to a quarter or a third, at best, of their customers."

C-band frequencies are critical to Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband and AT&T's 5G+ services. The carriers argue that France allows C-band frequencies so long as providers do not install transmission equipment along runways. Verizon and AT&T offered to abide by that restriction for six months while the FAA continued to study the issue.

Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband differs from the company's existing Nationwide 5G service in two ways. First, it operates at a higher frequency, which allows it to transmit more data faster, but only over shorter distances. The second difference is that Ultra Wideband must use standalone 5G equipment.

Verizon's Nationwide 5G non-standalone equipment provides 5G and 4G services simultaneously but offers data speeds only 20% to 30% better than 4G, Menezes said.

Verizon launched three new personal phone plans and two new home internet plans for the 5G Ultra Wideband service. The carrier will also make the new spectrum available to companies with a Business Unlimited Plus or Pro mobile plan or a 5G Business Internet offering. The latter starts at $69 per month for 100 MBps download speeds.

T-Mobile, which competes with AT&T and Verizon, has not been a part of the FAA negotiations because it uses a spectrum primarily outside the C-band frequency. T-Mobile is expanding its mid-band frequency Ultra Capacity 5G service.

Madelaine Millar is a news writer covering network technology at TechTarget. She has previously written about science and technology for MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and the Khoury College of Computer Science, as well as covering community news for Boston Globe Media.

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