Verizon: LTE Vendors Need to Deliver in 2009

BOULDER, Colo. — On the eve of announcing the list of vendors Verizon will use in building out its Long Term Evolution (LTE) fourth-generation wireless network, Verizon CTO Richard Lynch let it be known Monday that the big telco wasn’t going to let its suppliers slow down its aggressive deployment plans.

In a keynote speech at the Silicon Flatirons conference here, Lynch delivered more details on Verizon’s LTE plans, both in his talk and in a private interview afterwards. After saying that Verizon would announce its list of LTE vendors at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Lynch added that the company is in the final stages of its vendor selection — but, “more importantly, I told those vendors they need to be up and running this year.”

Lynch also said that Verizon is sticking by its prior proclamations of having a trial LTE network deployed in the U.S. before the end of 2009, with commercial availability following in 2010, perhaps even sooner than the “first half” goal stated in the company’s recent earnings conference call. “We believe very strongly that LTE will be the dominant mobile standard for 4G,” Lynch said.

While Lynch didn’t divulge any real specifics of Verizon’s LTE plans — some details will be announced next week in Barcelona, he said — he did acknowledge that Verizon’s choice of LTE over WiMax or Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) was more a business than a technology decision, due to the perception that a wider vendor base would lead to better economics for LTE infrastructure.

In evaluations of the three technologies, Lynch said Verizon found that “the [technical] performance of all three were essentially the same.” Verizon chose LTE, Lynch said, “because it seemed the most likely to achieve world-wide status. It didn’t become a technology as much as it was a business decision.”

Lynch also said he thinks that Verizon’s spectrum holdings at 700 MHz — where it plans to deploy LTE in the U.S. — are broad enough to offer mobile broadband services. However, he refused to put a download-speed number on Verizon’s planned offerings, and didn’t want to be tied to theoretical peak speeds since he said such figures don’t offer users a real idea of what type of bandwidth they will be able to use.

While LTE proponents often quote theoretical download speeds near 100 Mbps, no data exists for true commercial deployments which figure in spectrum depth, the number of planned end-users, and other real-world impediments that often burst the bubble of theoretical wireless technology projections.

While he also didn’t want to be tied to a specific number, Lynch said it was likely that Verizon would use 5 MHz channels for LTE delivery; WiMax provider Clearwire, by comparison, uses 10 MHz channels for its mobile WiMax services now available in Portland, Ore., and Baltimore, Md., giving Clearwire a bigger pipe to support more users and faster download speeds. Clearwire, which has significantly greater spectrum holdings than Verizon (albeit at a different frequency) currently offers commercial download speeds range from 1 to 6 Mbps, depending on the service plan ordered.

In further questions about LTE, Lynch said:

– Verizon should achieve nationwide LTE coverage “over a few years.”

– Verizon wouldn’t need to add to its budget to implement LTE, since LTE network-building costs would simply replace current budget figures for 3G deployments. “It’s not a FiOS-type investment,” Lynch said. “We can do it inside our regular budget.”

– Verizon sees Clearwire as a competitor, but will likely target other nationwide providers as its closest rivals. “We certainly see Clearwire as a competitor — anyone who wants the same customer we do [is a competitor],” Lynch said.

– Verizon probably won’t put WiMax chips in any devices, even in a hybrid fashion. “I never say never, but I can’t imagine why” Verizon would add WiMax, Lynch said. Instead, look for Verizon to offer devices with LTE, EV-DO and Wi-Fi to give customers a wide range of mobile coverage. “If you take those three, that’s all a customer needs,” Lynch said.

– LTE access would likely emerge first via PC cards, USB dongles or chipsets embedded in laptops. “Everyone goes for that type of user first,” Lynch said, since the laptop or netbook form factors are predisposed to easily add connectivity options, and their owners are predisposed to want mobile services.

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