WHEN: Today, Wednesday, January 19, 2022
WHERE: CNBC's "Squawk Box"
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC exclusive interview with Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg on CNBC's "Squawk Box" (M-F, 6AM-9AM ET) today, Wednesday, January 19. Following is a link to video on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2022/01/19/verizon-ceo-hans-vestberg-breaks-down-major-launch-of-5g-networks.html.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN: Good morning, Joe. And thank you. Yes, I'm joined now by Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg. Hans, thanks for joining us in this exclusive interview as you roll out 5G to most of the country. Now, let's start off with his concession to the FAA to delay the deployment of 5G around airports. I know you've already delayed multiple times. You say the technology is safe, that other countries are already using similar technology. But the Airline Pilots Association wants more assurances. And as Joe just mentioned, some airlines are already canceling flights and blaming this deployment of 5G. How long are you going to wait before you roll out nationwide?
HANS VESTBERG: So first of all, we need to celebrate what we're really doing today because I think it's a great day for the U.S. economy, a great day for all of our Verizon customers because they have Verizon. Because we're turning on our C-Band today, more than 90 million people in United State will have coverage in more than 1700 cities. So that's really what I'm excited about. But you're also right, you're talking about that in some places, in a very small portion of our network, we're not turning on some radios close to airports. That has been sort of our discussion with the airline industry to see that we're having a safe flight and so they have time to go through the technology, and the frequencies and all of that. And that they're doing. And I'm confident that this is going to go fast. They're very focused, we have seen a good collaboration last couple of weeks to really do this in a good way. So it's a small portion of the network, but I think the big thing for us is actually we launched a network and it's a great network with a performance that is just fantastic. It is over one gig basically on a mobile phone now going all around the country and this is just the beginning and so we are excited. At Verizon we're very excited for that and hopefully our customers. And it is great for the economy because broadband and wireless is such an important infrastructure for this country.
BOORSTIN: Yeah, and certainly 5G is something I know you've invested a lot in. It's something we've been talking about for a while but the fact that you have to hold back in this 10% of the market that is near those airports, have you set a deadline with the FAA or with airlines when you said, "guys we're gonna launch in a month this is just – we're turning it on fully in a month."? Do you have a sense of when this will be fully resolved?
VESTBERG: So first of all, we have done this voluntary because we also believe it's important that the airline industry and FAA really understand and do the right things because we're all flying – I'm flying, my family's flying. So we want this to be in the right way. I have the assurance from the highest level of the White House this is the main priority for them to sort out. I am dedicating my technology people to do it. But again, it's a small portion on the network. I think more importantly is that the rest of the network is now turned on and wherever you are, in those 1700 cities today, you're actually getting the 5G Ultra wideband from Verizon, which is a game changer.
BOORSTIN: Yeah, and it sounds like you don't have a clear sense of when that final 10% will turn on. But I'm wondering more broadly Hans, you know, this is something that Verizon has invested so much in, it's something that you've been working towards this launch. I know you've had to delay it as part of these conversations with the FAA, but are you concerned that the delays and all the headlines about airline safety could hamper consumer interest in upgrading to 5G?
VESTBERG: No, I think that the consumers hopefully understand that we are taking this extremely seriously and that's why we have delayed on the launch and that's why we are not powering up some of the few radio base stations close to the airport today. So I think that the consumer should understand that we are taking this equally serious and anyone, as I said, I mean, we are all flying and we want to see that the authorities on that side feel really safe about this. But remember, these frequencies are used in more than 40 countries where aircrafts are landing everyday today. So it's a matter of time just to work this through.
BECKY QUICK: Hey Hans, it's Becky. You know, we heard earlier today from a former airline CEO who was just saying that part of the reason – because I was confused by that, too. We've heard about how this has been rolled out in other countries and that there hasn't been a problem. He was saying that the technology is a little different, that it's stronger, that it's on a slightly different part of the bandwidth. Couple of questions. Is this a question of time or is this a question of technology? Is going to be just a matter of time and sure everything's okay, because there's not these technological problems? And second of all, do you want your money back from the FCC? What did you guys spend like $45 billion on this spectrum?
VESTBERG: So first of all I mean, it's time and then technology. I mean it's the same frequency that's all around the pla— and of course, the experts need to discuss this rather than people like me that are doing this check between the frequencies but remember, before this spectrum was auction, it was enormous work to review and do an analysis of the spectrum. So, it's not like this hasn't been done before. So that's one. When it comes to getting money back from the government, that's nothing we're having been discussing at the moment. We will have a good collaboration with all involved parties, including the White House, to see that this is cleared out so I have very high hopes that this is not going to be an issue for a long time.
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Hey Hans, you personally, how would you feel about—
SORKIN: How are you. It's Andrew. How would you feel personally about flying an airplane near one of these towers right now?
VESTBERG: Very good.
SORKIN: And what do you, so what do you tell your friends in the airline business?
VESTBERG: No. We, we said we have our collaboration. We're different type of speeds on hardware reviewing technology and they are a bigger, big industry. There are many people that need to do it so we just need to take the time so they feel good about the technology and, and all of that and that's happening. And of course, FCC is involved and FAA is involved and all my technicians are involved because that's where the discussion is happening. So that's what's happening and the collaboration is good.
SORKIN: But can you go 30,000 feet for us not to use an airline phrase and explain how we even got here given, given what seems to you think everybody would have known for as long as we have and, and here we are in this sort of very unusual spot.
VESTBERG: It's a great question but I don't think you should ask me, I think you should ask them how we got there. So, I don't know. For, for us to I think we have done everything right, we, we bought the spectrum and there's been extensive research on the spectrum—
SORKIN: But you must have a view of what's happened inside the FAA and inside these airlines. You were in by the way the cell phone business was in a big battle for years with the with airlines and FAA over whether you could even use your phone while the plane was, was taxing if you remember.
VESTBERG: Yeah, I remember that. Now, it's not for me to have any opinions about the things that I don't really exactly know what's happening. So, I'll leave that to the ones on that side to respond to that question, but it's a good question.
BOORSTIN: But Hans, I think what Andrew is getting at is the fact that you bought this spectrum from one part of the government. You spent a lot of money. It was a huge investment in technology. It's been very clear that you've been investing to get 5G ready to launch for years. You've had it ready to go late last year. And then another part of the government is telling you wait, you can't launch so you must be very frustrated at the fact that you have two different messages. You know, one is buy this technology and do things with it, buy the spectrum and the other saying wait you can't, you can't launch yet. It's not safe.
VESTBERG: Now, our job is of course to see that the flight safety is there but also that the US citizens are getting 5G Ultra Wideband and I think that's what we've been doing here and I said it's a smaller portion of the older radio network that we're built that we now are not powering up, because we're going through these. I think we're doing absolutely the right things, you know, and we're working with everybody in order to see that all the customers that we have, all the people that are flying feel good about it and feel good about 5G. So, I think that's what I'm focused on. You know, as a leader of these company, we're really proud of the day to day where our strategic changes last year was fantastic. We sold Horizon Media Group, we bought the spectrum. We're launching a spectrum basically a quarter ahead. We added 20 million subscribers. I think for us this is a great day, we're redefining what Verizon is. So I'm proud my team is proud. So that's what we are focused on. And that's a small portion of the network that we're not powering up for good reasons. And that collaboration will continue so I'm not frustrated. I'm happy. I'm excited. I think we're in a great moment in the industry and we're super well positioned in the market.
BOORSTIN: You sound very patient Hans as this as this issue has taken a while I know to get your—
VESTBERG: I'm a super patient guy. I'm a super patient guy.
BOORSTIN: You started off the conversation saying today was an important day for the economy and 5G is important for the economy. And I know that's been part of your message to the government that we need to figure out how to deploy 5G because this is an economic imperative. Why is 5G so essential and how do you see it being transformative?
VESTBERG: No, first of all, a lot of things that we saw yesterday, for example, in the deals with Metaverse and all of that, you cannot do Metaverse without the network that Verizon is building today with low latency, enormous throughput and all of that. So that's one thing but not only that today. I'm powering up or covering 9 million households where I can do fixed wireless access, broadband, residential broadband as well. So suddenly, I can do broadband, I can do Metaverse, I can do consumer business. I can do enterprise innovations with mobile edge compute. So, all that is happening in this moment, all is driving where the economy is going more digitalized, more online, in order for everybody have the equal chance wherever they are, and whatever, whoever they live. That's so important, and that's what we're doing.
BOORSTIN: Well, certainly, you can have something churning and taking a while to load if you're, if you're in the metaverse Hans Vestberg. Thanks so much for joining us on this big day where you roll out 90% of your 5G network. Thank you, Hans.
VESTBERG: Thank you very much.
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