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Verizon using AI to built out its midband 5G networks at scale

The news: Verizon is enlisting AI models to help place thousands of 5G wireless transmitters for optimal performance, per The Wall Street Journal. This coincides with the company’s rollout of its midband spectrum that can ostensibly expand the reach of Verizon’s existing ultra wideband networks in dense city centers and beyond.

More on this: Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are in a long-standing race to 5G. Industry-wide adoption has been met with various delays and the interminable jockeying for more 5G spectrum. As it stands, 5G connectivity is not yet widely available even as 5G-enabled smartphones have been on the market for years. AI can help speed up 5G expansion or at least better optimize existing installations.

How it works: Verizon, the largest US carrier, began using AI models in 2018 to determine the best spots to install transmitters for its ultra-wideband spectrum and is now employing AI again to optimize the range of its midband spectrum. Verizon doubled its midband spectrum for 5G in March, and expects to cover 100 million subscribers with midband spectrum by March 2022.

  • Verizon’s AI system employs computer vision technology in relation to small-cell 5G transmitters—backpack-sized antennas installed on buildings and utility poles. AI is used to point out the best location for these antennas by weighing various factors, resulting in optimal 5G coverage.
  • “AI can analyze spatial and geographic elements like bridges, trees, and building heights around specific intersections in various ZIP codes,” said Shankar Arumugavelu, senior vice president and global CIO of Verizon. “Without AI, we would not be able to do this. Period.”

Why this could succeed: Other carriers like T-Mobile are also using AI in their 5G deployment plans. In T-Mobile’s case, AI models helped engineers prioritize locations for upgrading 4G gear to 5G.

AI’s ability to optimize the location of existing and new transmitters might help carriers provide the 5G that was promised. Namely, faster and more consistent 5G service even in higher-density city locations which currently suffer from poor 5G connectivity.