AT&T and Verizon execs tout LTE plans

Few differences beyond Verizon's plan to come to market faster; both downplay WiMax

Technologists from AT&T and Verizon Wireless today outlined their respective company's LTE plans during a Web conference sponsored by the GSM Association. At the end, neither had showed that their firm held a significant advantage over the other.

In fact, Kris Rinne, senior vice president of architecture and planning for AT&T, and Tom Sawanobori, vice president for network strategy at Verizon, mostly touted the LTE technology under development at their firms as superior to the WiMax technology emerging from Clearwire and Sprint Nextel for high speed wireless communications.

The biggest difference in the LTE strategies of Verizon AT&T remains as it has been for a while -- that Verizon plans to come to market sooner with LTE.

Sawanobori restated Verizon's plans, disclosed earlier this month, to bring LTE to 25 to 30 markets with 100 million potential customers by the end of 2010.

Meanwhile, Rinne said today that AT&T plans to launch LTE trials later in 2010, with initial deployments underway some time next year.

She also noted that AT&T is boosting the speeds of its existing 3G networks by upgrading them with HSPA 7.2 technology.

Neither executive today would commit to either a usage-based pricing model or all-you-can eat option like those now offered in some wireless plans, though Sawanobori did predict that Verizon's plan will "probably be usage based."

Rinne and Sawanobori each said that LTE wireless technology will initially let users more smootly run applications for video and gaming more smoothly, and eventually support Voice over IP.

Verizon hopes to start supporting voice traffic over its LTE network in 2011 or 2012, while AT&T expects to join it in 2012. Both carriers will initially rely on their existing wireless networks for voice communications.

Verizon is hoping to convince partners to create many different devices, such as cameras and small medical devices, that can take advantage of the faster speeds available on its LTE network.

The company is encouraging small developers to test their devices on LTE technology at its new LTE Innovation Center in Waltham, Mass., Sawanobori said.

In LTE network tests in Boston and Seattle, Verizon has seen average downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbit/sec, and uplink speeds 2-5 Mbit/sec, about 10 times faster than Verizon's existing 3G network on CDMA/EVDO-Rev. A.

Verizon said it takes about 30 milliseconds for a signal transmitted round trip on its LTE trial networks, about a third the time needed under 3G speeds. Such speeds would improve complex application performance, Sawanobori said.

Sawanobori acknowledged that the cost to operate an LTE network will be about one-third the cost of operating Verizon's current networks, mostly due to technology efficiencies.

Rinne described AT&T's LTE architecture as flatter and more efficient than its current GSM network technology. The flat architecture reduces the movements LTE-based packets take through the network, she said.

Both executives defended LTE technology when asked whether Clearwire would have any advantage because more radio spectrum is available to enable Wimax.

Sawanobori contended that spectrum owned by Verizon will have better propagation characteristics and will need fewer cell towers than Clearwire's. He claimed Verizon is also demonstrating LTE speeds of 5 to 12 Mbit/sec, compared to the 3-6 Mbit/sec performce of the Clearwire network.

Rinne said that AT&T will be able to use spectrum in the 700 MHz band, and then extend it to the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz bands in the future. "We will have the opportunity [to grow spectrum for] LTE in future years, both the quality and range of it," she said.

Both Verizon and AT&T said their LTE networks will support devices that have dual LTE-3G radios at first.

Verizon recently announced plans to launch an LTE phone in 2011 while Sprint is expected to announce the Supersonic device for its WiMax network next Tuesdat at the CTIA wireless show.

During the presentation, GSMA Alliance said that an Infonetics forecast predicts that LTE will be used on 41% of wireless devices in the U.S. in 2014. By comparison, HSPA will be used on 29% of wireless devices, EVDO on 27% and Wimax on 3%.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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