LTE comes into focus

Verizon leads charge to deploy Long Term Evolution wireless

In the two weeks prior to the International CTIA Wireless convention, Motorola's team of technicians went to work building an ad hoc 4G wireless network on top of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The goal was to give convention attendees a live outdoor demonstration of Long Term Evolution mobile broadband technology by streaming live high-definition video from the top of the building into a moving van.

The results were far from perfect; the video was jittery because the network equipment's location atop the convention center was not ideal for propagation, but the demonstration served notice that LTE is starting to move out of the test labs of carriers and device manufacturers and into the real world.

Widely expected to be the next major standard in mobile broadband technology, LTE received a lot of attention from both speakers and vendors at this year's CTIA show, which attracted 1,000 exhibitors -- a 10% increase over last year (CTIA officials did not have attendance figures however). As telecom carriers talked about deploying LTE, there was a sense that the wireless industry was reaching the end of an era. Specifically, it seems that the days when cellular carriers charge by the minute for voice services could be numbered.

Because LTE is built entirely around IP, wireless users will be far more likely to make their calls via VoIP systems than via traditional cellular networks, said AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega during a question-and-answer session. In particular, de la Vega said LTE's high bandwidth means that carriers would eventually move toward pricing models under which users are charged only for data volume, not for minutes.

"Once we deploy LTE, we will be able to sell more data at a lower price than we do today," he said. "The future trend will be to just sell data. It's a little too early to talk about rate plans for LTE, but I think the way the world is going it will be about how much data you want to buy."

And it isn't just the way that carriers price their voice services that could change with the advent of LTE. Fred Wright, who serves as Motorola's senior vice president for cellular and WiMax networks, predicted that widespread LTE adoption would result in more manufacturers designing mobile devices that place more emphasis on video services and less on voice and data.

"I expect that LTE devices will have four-inch display screens, for example, which won't have any buttons or keypads on [them]," he said. "It will be a larger display screen than current smartphones... the reason for this is that LTE will be all about video."

Verizon leading the charge

Although carriers AT&T and T-Mobile have committed to deploying LTE sometime in the near future, it has so far been Verizon that has taken the lead in getting the technology to the market.

During his keynote address at CTIA Wireless, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said his company was still on track to deploy LTE on a limited basis later this year, with plans to roll out the technology in 25 to 30 markets in 2010. If all goes according to plan, Verizon will have a significant time-to-market advantage over its competitors.

But Verizon is not content with merely getting LTE up and running quickly. The carrier said this week that it is establishing a new "innovation center" aimed at creating a wide range of devices and services for mobile broadband. The center, which will be in Waltham, Mass., and will operate in partnership with Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, will serve as a test lab for wireless device and application developers who want to try out their products on mobile broadband networks.

The center will be focused on three major product areas: consumer electronics and appliances; machine-to-machine products that wirelessly deliver information between devices specifically designed for fields such as health care, security and utility monitoring; and telematics applications, such as the GPS system used by courier UPS to track delivery vehicles.

Wright said Verizon's decision to go ahead with LTE deployment made it an "anomaly" in the wireless industry, since the majority of carriers have so far seemed content to take their time and milk as much value as possible out of their 3G networks. Wright predicted that because most carriers are aiming for LTE deployment a little further down the line, its success will not be hindered by the current global economic crisis that is leading to a major drop off in technology spending.

"The whole issue about LTE is not about today but about two, three, four years from now," he said. "We have plenty of time for the global economy to recover, and I don't see that the current economic environment has any impact on the decision to deploy LTE at all."

This story, "LTE comes into focus" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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