Q&A: Verizon's LTE road map for 2010 and beyond

Although Verizon has been relatively quiet on the 4G front lately, the carrier says it's still on track to have LTE services up and running by year-end.

Don't expect fireworks from LTE in 2010

What's more, Verizon is planning to aggressively expand its LTE coverage throughout the next four years so that by the end of 2013 its entire current 3G footprint will be converted to 4G. We chatted recently with Tony Melone, the executive vice president and CTO of Verizon Wireless, to get an idea of where Verizon is headed with its 4G LTE services both this year and beyond, as well as to get a sense of what customers should expect from their 4G coverage when it eventually does arrive in their market.

What is the state of Verizon's LTE rollout at this point?

There are two things that we need to do before we can launch LTE commercially. First we need to finish getting our infrastructure ready, which means getting all our antennas, our backhaul, and our leasing work with tower owners in order. Second, we need to get the new technology trial work done.

I'm happy to report that we're ahead of where we thought we'd be as far as site readiness goes. This was the area I was most concerned with a year ago, when we were wondering when all the tower companies and backhaul providers would be ready to meet our needs. But we've been pleasantly surprised by their readiness so far as they've really embraced this opportunity.

On the infrastructure side, anytime you introduce new technology there's going to be some learning that takes place. It's a process where we find performance issues, the supplier goes back and gets new version of the software ready and then comes back to us and so forth. And that's to be expected. The important point is that we're still very much on track to launch LTE commercially in 25 to 30 markets in latter part of this year. It's looking better each day, not worse each day.

The other piece of the story is mobile ecosystem and whether there'll be devices ready by the time we launch. So far, by being aggressive and deploying this technology before anyone else, it seems that the ecosystem has moved with us. So there are many chipsets and devices that are ready to go and we feel bullish about getting out to the gates early. All in all, the message is that we're bullish, confident and excited about where we're going to be headed over the next 12 to 15 months.

What does your road map beyond 2010 look like?

We're excited about going out of the gate with LTE in 25 to 30 markets later this year, but we're also going to be aggressive in our plan to get to critical mass. Fifteen months after our initial launch we're planning to double the number of markets that have LTE. Then by the end of 2013 we're going to have our entire current 3G footprint covered by 4G. So in other words, everywhere we have 3G coverage today we'll have 4G coverage. And we'll also have places where we don't have 3G coverage today that we'll have 4G.

The big thing for us is that 100% of the 700MHz spectrum we won in the FCC auction a couple years back will be used for 4G services. The 700MHz spectrum gives us tremendous propagation advantages versus the people who are deploying LTE in the higher spectrum ranges. 700MHz spectrum means that there will be fewer sites required and we'll have better building penetration.

What should early adopters expect from Verizon's LTE services this year? When can we expect to see LTE devices with 4G voice capabilities?

The technical capabilities for LTE voice will be there in the 2011 timeframe. The question for us will be whether our footprint will be sufficient at that point to provide customers with a good experience for voice over LTE, or whether we'll be better off offering 3G coverage for voice and 4G for data. At some point in time, 4G voice on LTE will become the norm, but we may have to start off with dual-radio devices.

If I'm a business, why should I care about 4G? What sorts of enterprise apps will LTE enable that aren't available now?

There are two fundamental benefits that our LTE network will provide. One is the increased throughput and speeds and the other is decreased latency on the network. Our trials have shown that users can expect 10 times as much throughput and an 80% reduction in network latency in our LTE network. With that kind of performance, you can imagine video-based applications that would allow business customers to tie in high-quality video to their conferencing capabilities. With the ecosystem we're talking about, we'll have companies that are great at developing products and services that will have a lot more throughput to play around with. If you look at what they're dong right now over the wired environment and imagine them putting it on a mobile environment you'll have a good idea where 4G applications are headed.

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This story, "Q&A: Verizon's LTE road map for 2010 and beyond" was originally published by Network World.

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