Verizon Plans Radical Shift to Global Network Standard

Verizon, the No. 2 mobile phone carrier in the U.S., announced Thursday that it and joint owner Vodafone plan to develop and deploy technology based upon Long Term Evolution (LTE) as its fourth generation (4G) mobile broadband network.

The shift away from its current standard, CDMA (code division multiple access), would essentially open the mobile carrier’s networks, making it more compatible with standards used in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

“The company’s move toward a 4G network is driven by our vision of pervasive wireless Internet connectivity and mobility,” said Richard Lynch, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Verizon Communications. “Customers want to be truly untethered with advanced communication devices that provide functionality comparable to today’s wired networks — whether it’s downloading or uploading video, gaming, downloading their favorite music, or social networking.”

Verizon and Vodafone will launch a coordinated trial for the LTE network beginning in 2008. It will include several trial suppliers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia Siemens and Nortel Networks.

Mobile Future

LTE technology is based on the Global System for Mobile (GSM) standard commonly used in Europe. The Third Generation Partnership Project, a consortium of telecommunications associations responsible for the development of previous and current generations standards based in France, has been developing the next-generation standard.

The next-generation wireless broadband technology is a significant advancement as it will enable carriers to offer high-speed data and media transport along with high-capacity voice support. Based on Internet protocol (IP) technology with voice, video and messaging services built on top, 4G networks using LTE can provide an uplink speed up to 60 megabytes per second (Mbps) and a downlink speed up to 100 Mbps.

To achieve these speeds, LTE uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex Access (OFDMA), a new modulation technique, in combination with Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO), an antenna technology. OFDMA, a multi-user version of OFDM, divides data into multiple narrowband subcarriers which transport their portion of data at a lower bit rate, allowing simultaneous transmissions from multiple users.

“LTE is sort of the end game on the GSM side,” said Neil Strother, a JupiterResearch analyst. “The uniqueness is that here is a CDMA carrier that is looking at a 4G solution that is at the end path on the GSM side.”

The move to LTE will enable carriers to offer mobile wireless broadband services at a more affordable cost while at the same time improving network performance.

The move will bring Verizon and Vodafone, a GSM-based carrier that owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless, in line with one another, David Chamberlain, an Instat analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

“[Vodafone] is a European wireless operator that was most likely to choose LTE as its 4G technology. This finally brings Verizon Wireless and Vodafone into harmony. Ultimately you’ll be able to take your Verizon Wireless phone and use it anywhere else in the world. That is not the case now,” he continued.

Bye-Bye 3G, Hello 4G

More than anything, Verizon’s announcement is a heads up for regulators, competitors, its employees and mobile industry watchers that the carrier has a roadmap for the future, said Bill Hughes, an InStat analyst.

“The LTE announcement has little relevance to consumers for the time being. However, this will involve a huge investment of capital,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This latest announcement is to tell the wireless industry — and investors to a lesser degree — that Verizon is moving forward and has a clear vision for the future.”

For consumers the shift to LTE will result in faster downloads and enhanced quality, but not without a switch. Verizon will keep its current network, according to Chamberlain, “as long as customers demand it.”

“They don’t anticipate that it might be shut down until after 2015,” he continued.

“4G feels like a next decade thing,” Strothers explained. “These technology leaps in wireless seem to have been more of a ten year thing than a three to five year thing. There’s a lot of infrastructure — hardware and software investments — that are very costly and just don’t happen that quickly. So consumers shouldn’t get all excited that 4G will be here soon.”

However, when the new LTE service rolls out in four to five years for consumers it will mean new devices for consumers. The networks will first have to be deployed at a certain level before handset makers really begin launching new 4G devices, however, said Chris Hazelton, an IDC analyst.

“What’s going to make this be adopted faster by device vendors is the fact that LTE has a very large potential footprint. With 3G you had what was the GSM derivative and then you had Verizon, Sprint and Alcatel using CDMA and EVDO (evolution-data optimized, a CDMA technology). There were two flavors of 3G where right now there is only one flavor of 4G. So that will drive faster adoption by device vendors and you’ll see handsets faster for 4G,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The big loser is Verizon’s current technology partner, Qualcomm, which developed CDMA technology.

“This is a tough day for Qualcomm, which has a competing technology called ‘Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB),'” Chamberlain said. “Verizon has long been a cheerleader for Qualcomm’s CDMA technology and closely allied with the company. This move breaks Verizon Wireless out of the CDMA technology island it has created in North America.”

“But it also says that billions of dollars that will be spent on infrastructure for the LTE network will not provide revenue for Qualcomm,” he added.

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