Verizon expects 4G launch next year

The wireless provider's chief technology officer discusses his expectations of the next-generation network and names the vendors that are building it.

Verizon CTO Dick Lynch discusses the transition to a 4G wireless network. Marguerite Reardon/CNET Networks

BARCELONA--Verizon Communications' chief technology officer dished out details Wednesday on the company's soon-to-be-built 4G wireless network that's set to go live in 2010.

Verizon will begin testing the service this year and launch it commercially in at least 25 to 30 markets in the U.S. in 2010, CTO Dick Lynch said during an interview with CNET News after his keynote speech Wednesday at the 2009 GSMA Mobile World Congress here.

"We are modeling the roll-out after our EV-DO deployment. So we expect to get to about the same level in the first year of deploying LTE that we got with EV-DO, which is about 25 or 30 markets. That is probably a reasonable estimate," he said, referring to the Long Term Evolution network.

Verizon will continue to build out the 4G wireless network and expects to blanket the continental U.S. and Hawaii with the new wireless network by 2015.

The network will use 700MHz wireless spectrum that Verizon acquired in the Federal Communications Commission's auction last year. The company announced in 2007 that it planned to use a technology call Long Term Evolution to build its next-generation wireless networks.

Several GSM operators around the world have also announced plans to use LTE, which means that Verizon 4G wireless subscribers will eventually be able to roam globally.

Verizon has been testing the service in several areas in the U.S. including Minneapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and northern New Jersey. It's also been working with Vodafone (Verizon Wireless' co-parent) and China Mobile to test deployments in other parts of the world, including Budapest, Hungary, Dusseldorf, Germany, and Madrid, Lynch said.

The wireless spectrum that will be used to build the new network will be fully available in June after all U.S. broadcasters finish transitioning to digital TV signals . Congress recently pushed back the deadline to switch to digital TV broadcast from this week to June.

Download speeds
In its initial trials, Verizon says that it has demonstrated peak download speeds of around 50Mbps to 60Mbps. Average download speeds are likely to be a lot lower since the wireless spectrum is a shared medium. Still, the network will be much faster than the average speed of Verizon's 3G EV-DO service, which typically tops out at 400Kbps to 700Kbps.

Lynch also announced major equipment suppliers that will build the new network. Telecom equipment makers Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, and Starent Networks will be used for the wireless and Internet infrastructure gear. Products from Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens will help provide the service layer of the network.

Lynch said during the interview that Verizon Wireless still has plenty of headroom left with its 3G technology but that in the not-too-distant future consumers are likely to demand higher-speed wireless connections. Lynch wants Verizon to be ready for that.

Demand will likely come from consumers who want to attach a slew of consumer electronics and other devices to the Internet wirelessly, he said. E-readers are good examples of devices that will be connected wirelessly and will drive demand for higher bandwidth.

Wireless connectivity to the Internet is also expected to be built into other products, such as digital cameras and even medical devices.

"In the not-so-distant-future, any and all devices will have LTE embedded in them," Lynch said during his speech. "We are seeing a new generation of converged devices that will let people do a lot more than we've seen so far."

More independence for customers?
One potential problem Verizon could face as it rolls out this new network has to do with customer support. During the Q&A section of the keynote, moderator Andy Zimmerman of Accenture asked Lynch how Verizon plans to deal with a likely deluge of customer support questions when the company allows people to use any device on the LTE network. Lynch essentially put the onus back on the consumer. He said that the wireless broadband market will evolve to be more like the PC market and that customers will expect to troubleshoot more of their own problems--rather than walking into a Verizon Wireless store or calling customer support like they do today to fix problems.

"Consumers will have to take more responsibility" for troubleshooting, he said. "It's a harsh message, but a factual message."

To some extent, Lynch might be right. Consumers may realize that a Verizon customer support representative won't be able to tell them how to fix their digital camera or their network-connected heart monitor. But I suspect customers will still expect a high level of support from Verizon, which will be providing the network connectivity.

After all, in the fixed broadband market, I don't call Dell or Microsoft when my home PC isn't connecting to the Internet. But I do call Time Warner Cable, my broadband provider.

Check back with CNET News later Wednesday to read the full interview with Lynch.

 

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