WALTHAM, Mass.-In the past, when Verizon Wireless unveiled a new wireless network, such as its 3G platform, the carrier would set it up, offer a USB modem and let others worry about the technologies that would leverage it, according to Kyle Malady, vice president of technology at the company.
However, with the rollout of its 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network in December 2010, that changed. Verizon is not only coming out with the 4G network but also bringing along a growing portfolio of devices-from tablets to smartphones to smart grid technologies-that will run atop it.
As the carrier continues its aggressive 4G rollout, the devices will only fuel demand for the LTE network, Malady said.
“It will help drive adoption,” he said in an interview with eWEEK July 12 during the official opening of Verizon’s new LTE Innovation Center in this city just outside Boston.
The Innovation Center, 15 months in the making, comprises two buildings, including more than 135,000 square feet of labs and office space in one building and 60,000 square feet of both showcase and office space in another building. The center is designed to be a place where partners and companies-from major vendors like Alcatel-Lucent to smaller startups-can develop, build and showcase their 4G LTE-based products, leveraging Verizon’s network.
For partners and businesses, the Innovation Center provides access to a 4G network that they would not have had otherwise, as well as access to the type of engineering and programming talent inherent in Verizon that they do not have in-house. More than 300 technology experts work at the center, according to Verizon. For the carrier, working with these other companies helps it test and improve its 4G LTE capabilities, and new devices and technologies that come out of the Innovation Center will help drive adoption of Verizon’s network.
Coupled with Verizon’s Application Innovation Center, slated to open next month in San Francisco, the carrier is looking to be the center of 4G technology development, according to David Mead, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless.
“With our Innovation Center and the soon-to-open application center, we intend to encourage all new ideas,” Mead told a crowd at the formal opening of the Waltham facility, which was built in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Samsung Mobile.
According to Verizon, the carrier currently has its 4G LTE network in 39 major metropolitan areas, covering more than 110 million people. The company aims to have 50 billion 4G connections by 2020.
Verizon has spent billions of dollars since deciding in 2008 on LTE for its 4G network, Malady said. The carrier finds itself in a tight competition with rivals like AT&T, which currently has its HSPA+ network and is looking to launch its LTE network this summer. AT&T on July 12 unveiled two LTE products, AT&T USBConnect Momentum 4G and the Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G, as it looks to gain ground against Verizon and Sprint, which also has adopted LTE.
AT&T officials also hope that the company’s proposed $39 billion bid for T-Mobile will help it rapidly grow its 4G network.
More Than 30 Products Showcased
More than 30 products have been developed and showcased at the new Verizon Innovation Center-as well as at trade shows-examples of what Malady described as the carrier’s new strategy around the 4G rollout. He noted Verizon’s performance at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in January, when the company not only officially took the wraps off its 4G network but also brought along a host of devices, including smartphones and tablets.
The products on display at the Innovation Center event-many of which are still in development-are examples of Verizon’s strategy of fueling adoption of its 4G network with devices from companies leveraging its LTE technology.
Those products are coming from companies big and small. Ericsson is working on a converged workplace, which Tim Moss, senior vice president and head of engagement practices at the company, called an “office in a box” for small and midsize businesses. At the other end of the spectrum is Vgo Communications’ robotic telepresence product, which essentially is a robot armed with immersive video collaboration technology that can be controlled remotely and transmits video and audio in a two-way fashion via Verizon’s 4G technology.
Tim Root, Vgo’s founder and CTO, said his company is targeting the technology at the enterprise, health care and education verticals.
Also on display was a product from Nomad Innovation’s LiveEdge.tv company. LiveEdge.tv is developing a 1.5-pound unit that attaches to the television cameras used at live sporting and entertainment events. The unit sends video from the scene to another device in a newsroom over 4G LTE, according to LiveEdge.tv CEO Robert Klingle, who spoke at the event.
The device could lead to significant cost savings at television stations, which currently rely on expensive vehicles that use microwave technology to send images from the scene to the newsroom. LiveEdge.tv officials estimate that capital costs for stations could drop from $175,000 to $250,000 per truck to $30,000 to $45,000 with these devices. In addition, operational costs could be reduced by 75 percent.
Klingle said that LiveEdge.tv’s product, which will launch later this year, is specialized technology that will not sell in a wide range of enterprises and that the company after 15 months was at the point where it almost had to be shut down. However, coming to Verizon’s Innovation Center five months ago gave it access to hundreds of engineer hours, and now the company is seeing interest from major networks.
“We would not exist without the Innovation Center,” Klingle said.
Malady said LiveEdge.tv was an example of how Verizon will grow adoption of its 4G network. LiveEdge.tv’s isn’t going to sell millions of devices.
“But if we keep hitting single after single, eventually we’ll get up to that 50 billion connection [goal],” he said.