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Verizon's choice of Hans Vestberg as CEO puts focus back on race for 5G

Verizon plans to start commercial 5G service by year-end in parts of Los Angeles and Sacramento

Scott Moritz | Bloomberg 

Hans Vestberg
Hans Vestberg

In elevating technology chief Hans Vestberg to lead the overall company on Friday, Communications sent a message to the rest of the industry: It’s doubling down on network expansion to ward off increasingly ambitious rivals.

While tries to complete an acquisition of Time Warner and US pursues its merger with Sprint, wants no distractions. It’s betting that being first to build a faster fifth-generation network will give it an edge over competitors for years.

already sat out the latest round of potential deals — such as bidding on or 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets — even as archrival is attempting to make itself over as a media distribution giant. The company wants to stick to what it knows: networks. But the go-it-alone strategy also raises the stakes of getting its transition right.

In elevating technology chief Hans Vestberg to lead the overall company on Friday, Verizon Communications Inc. sent a message to the rest of the industry: It’s doubling down on network expansion to ward off increasingly ambitious rivals.

While tries to complete an acquisition of Time Warner and US pursues its merger with Sprint, Verizon wants no distractions. It’s betting that being first to build a faster fifth-generation network will give it an edge over competitors for years.

Verizon already sat out the latest round of potential deals — such as bidding on Corp. or 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets — even as archrival AT&T is attempting to make itself over as a media distribution giant. The company wants to stick to what it knows: networks. But the go-it-alone strategy also raises the stakes of getting its transition right. “Deals aren’t Vestberg’s strength — his strength is with the network,” said Jennifer Fritzsche, analyst with Wells Fargo Securities. “It shows that Verizon is all about the network.”

Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have all been testing new network equipment in select areas, aiming to be first out of the gate with connection speeds that promise to be 10 to 100 times faster. The idea is that dramatically new speeds will eventually help support self-driving cars, smart appliances and even surgical robots.

Verizon plans to start commercial 5G service by year-end in parts of Los Angeles and Sacramento. The initial product will be a direct wireless connection to a home receiver that serves as an alternative to stringing fibre-optic cable. Using a wireless broadband connection, Verizon will sell internet, phone and TV service to compete with Comcast and Charter Communications.

Current Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam, whom the 52-year-old Vestberg will succeed in August, set the 5G plan in motion. He also steered Verizon away from buying traditional cable-TV programming. Instead, he bought online media in the form of AOL and Yahoo!.

US and Sprint, meanwhile, agreed to a $26.5 billion merger that would combine the No. 3 and No. 4 wireless carriers in the US. The also have pitched that deal as a 5G strategy: They argue they won’t get a truly competitive network without joining forces.

Along the way, investors and analysts have looked for some kind of M&A response from Verizon. For now, at least, that’s not coming.

First Published: Sat, June 09 2018. 22:32 IST
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