Verizon Wireless to Launch 4G LTE Service in 30 U.S. Cities

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-09-15

Verizon Wireless to Launch 4G LTE Service in 30 U.S. Cities

BETHESDA, MD.-Verizon Wireless told enterprise IT managers at a meeting here Sept. 15 that it plans to light up 30 "National Football League Cities" in the United States with its 4G LTE wireless network by the end of 2010. 

The remainder of the country will get this 4G service in stages until the entire nation has access to Verizon Wireless' 4G network by 2013, according to Bernie McMonagle, a Verizon senior federal sales executive.

Verizon officials would not specify which cities will gain 4G service in 2010 other than to say they are major metropolitan areas.

McMonagle said he expects to see 4G initially being used by laptop wireless cards and by devices that could potentially monitor everything from traffic sensors to refrigerators. Because of the economies of scale that come from using Verizon's global, standards-based approach to LTE, he said, he expects the prices of such devices to drop quickly and for them to become virtually ubiquitous. As envisioned, the Verizon Wireless 4G network would use a flat IP addressing model, much like what you'd find in an enterprise network.

Of course, with the number of devices that would become part of the Verizon Wireless network, the standard would be IPv6, which was confirmed by a Verizon Wireless engineer. The company is already in the process of completing the build-out. 

McMonagle said the company's cell sites are being upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet where possible so that they will have the backhaul capacity to support the bandwidth requirements of LTE. Currently, the first phase of the Verizon Wireless 4G network is designed to support download speeds of 5M bps to 12M bps with upload speeds of 2M bps to 5M bps. 

He also said the company would provide latency of 30 to 150 milliseconds, which is significantly better than current 3G technology. The bandwidth numbers are similar to those quoted by Sprint Nextel for its 4G network, which uses WiMax, however Verizon Wireless is widely believed to be preparing a second stage of the network build-out that would operate at significantly higher speeds.

LTE Smartphones Remain in Short Supply

During the Sept. 15 meeting, Verizon Wireless executives provided a live demonstration of streaming broadcast quality video showing a total of seven simultaneous feeds with nearly instantaneous switching between sources. This capability requires both high bandwidth and very low latency to run effectively. It should be noted, however, that while the demonstration used early versions of commercial equipment, including a laptop wireless card, there were only one cell site and one device on the system. Whether this reflects real-world use is open to speculation. 

Verizon Wireless is designing its 4G network to use the contiguous chunk of 700MHz spectrum that it acquired when the FCC auctioned frequencies vacated by broadcast television. This gives the company a common set of frequencies throughout the United States, unlike some carriers that ended up with a collection of small slices of that 700MHz band, or others such as Sprint's WiMax that use a different set of frequencies entirely.

While the Verizon Wireless LTE products adhere to global standards, including the use of SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards that can be switched between devices, the frequencies to which Verizon Wireless and other U.S. carriers have access are not the same as those used elsewhere. McMonagle said it's reasonable to expect the development of multiband devices for international travelers fairly early in the process. 

However, what won't be available immediately are smartphones. Because LTE phones are in extremely short supply already and because none of them currently operate in the 700MHz frequency range, it will be some time before they enter the marketplace. 

According to Verizon Wireless executives attending the meeting, details such as pricing plans and upgrade procedures remain to be worked out. However, McMonagle said he expects the high speed and low latency of 4G wireless to make cloud computing more attractive to mobile users. He also suggested that the new technology could bring about products such as tablets that are essentially thin clients. 

While the 4G network is still being built, Verizon Wireless has clearly been planning for it for some time. The company has spent over $100 billion on its nationwide data network since 2000, and is developing 4G roaming agreements so that the service will be available globally when the hardware for it is available. Because Verizon Wireless is partly owned by Vodafone, users will be able to use both networks for 4G once equipment that will handle the proper frequencies is available. 

While Verizon Wireless is setting the end of 2010 as the official launch date for its 4G service, it will probably be up and running in some areas of the United States sooner than that. Whether there will be endpoint hardware available to take advantage of the faster network is still an open question, but the company was using what appeared to be a market-ready 4G wireless card for the demonstrations.

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