Verizon Speeds Up LTE Deployment Plans

Sprint and Clearwire claim rolling out WiMax gives them a clear time-to-market advantage over other wireless 4G services on the drawing board. Verizon Wireless plans to challenge that premise by deploying LTE in 2009 and to follow that with a femtocell with Wi-Fi rollout.

Sprint Nextel and Clearwire have one WiMax deployment up and rolling in Baltimore and at the October debut of the nation's first 4G wireless service, Sprint Nextel and Clearwire officials crowed that they have the time-to-market drop on larger rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which are just now pushing out their 3G services.

Verizon Wireless changed that scenario Dec. 9, announcing that it plans to begin deploying 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) in 2009. Like WiMax, LTE promises faster upload and download speeds than 3G deployments. LTE, though, is theoretically much faster than WiMax.

Speaking at Cisco Systems' Cisco C-Scape conference in San Francisco, Dick Lynch, executive vice president and CTO of Verizon Communications, told conference attendees, "We expect that LTE will actually be in service somewhere here in the U.S. probably this time next year."

Verizon Wireless originally chose 2010 for the debut of its LTE, but after testing LTE developed by Motorola, Verizon Wireless decided to accelerate the schedule. Motorola, meanwhile, is covering its WiMax bet by having its LTE solution support both LTE and WiMax.

Lynch said Verizon Wireless envisions its 4G LTE as expanding the reach of wireless broadband beyond cell phones and laptops and plans to introduce a line of femtocells shortly after the LTE debut. Lynch added that the femtocells, which improve the quality of cell phone calls, would also include built-in Wi-Fi.

"A femtocell of LTE or an access point of Wi-Fi is a really critical component of the way customers want their broadband delivered," Lynch said, noting the femtocells could be used by other electronics devices that don't have cellular radios. "Broadband capabilities will be found in virtually every electronics product out there."

Lynch said by adding Wi-Fi to femtocells, Verizon Wireless hopes to expand its wireless data services to machine-to-machine applications such as cameras that could automatically upload pictures to the Internet. Lynch said tapping into the nascent machine-to-machine market could increase traffic "by an order of magnitude" as compared with human subscribers.

Since debuting WiMax in October, Sprint Nextel and Clearwire formally closed their $14.5 billion merger deal to combine the two carriers' 4G wireless Internet businesses into a nationwide WiMax network. The deal also includes a combined $3.2 billion investment by Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks.

Sprint and Clearwire hope their combined wireless spectrum will allow the new Clearwire to achieve greater coverage, cost and operational efficiency, and bandwidth utilization than either company could by operating alone. The new Clearwire is targeting a network deployment that will cover between 120 million and 140 million people in the United States by the end of 2010. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in October it would ultimately cost $3 billion to $5 billion to build out the network.

"This is not simply about a time-to-market advantage, but about having an amazing block of spectrum that is unencumbered by legacy commercial uses and technology," Clearwire founder and Chairman Craig O. McCaw said in a Dec. 1 statement. "It is a chance to do something right the first time, with simplicity and incredible efficiencies. We are building a wireless broadband network that will stand the test of both time and competition. This is far and away the most exciting opportunity in wireless I have seen since the beginning of cellular in 1983."