Report: Verizon 4G handsets out by mid-2011

Verizon Wireless exec tells The Wall Street Journal it will have a 4G wireless phone on the market within three to six months of launching its 4G LTE network.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read

A Verizon Wireless executive said its first 4G wireless handset could be available by mid-2011, according to an article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.

Anthony Melone, chief technology officer at Verizon Wireless, told the newspaper he expects Verizon to be able to offer mobile handsets with 4G capability within three to six months after it launches its commercial 4G network. This is about six months sooner than had previously been expected.

Verizon CEO Dick Lynch Verizon Communications

At the GSMA's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, Dick Lynch, an executive vice president and CTO for Verizon Communications, said Verizon Wireless is on track to launch its service in 25 to 30 markets throughout the U.S. by the end of 2010. The company, which is using a technology called LTE or long term evolution, is in the final phase, or "Phase 4," of its technology testing. Verizon Wireless is building its new 4G wireless network using spectrum it bought in the 700MHz auction.

The company should be able to start launching commercial deployments within the next couple of months as it finishes testing in cities like Boston and Seattle, Lynch said.

Typically, when a new generation of wireless network is launched, the first devices to use the new network are USB air cards that plug into laptops to provide faster Internet connections. Cell phones and other mobile devices with the new technology embedded usually show up in the market about year later.

But it looks like the development cycle on LTE handset technology is happening faster. Air cards will still be introduced to the market first, but mobile handsets with LTE technology embedded will follow more quickly than they usually do. At Mobile World Congress, Lynch and executives from the European carrier Orange as well as from equipment maker Ericsson, said LTE handsets will be introduced sooner than anyone had anticipated.

Verizon executives say it's still too early to say for sure when the devices will come to market or even which manufacturers will make the phones and which operating systems will be used.

"We have not tested handsets yet," Bill Stone, executive director of network strategy for Verizon Wireless said last month from MWC in an e-mail. "We expect the initial handsets will include CDMA. Not sure yet when they'll start to be available, but as Dick (Lynch) said at the GSMA news event, many of the components to bringing LTE to market are moving along much more quickly than we had initially hoped."

Since it will take some time to cover Verizon Wireless' entire network footprint with the 4G service, initially handsets will have two chips in them. An LTE chip will allow the mobile device to access the new 4G network where it's available, and another chip using CDMA technology will provide access on Verizon's 3G network when 4G service isn't available.

Eventually, suppliers will create an integrated chip that will handle both 3G and 4G technologies.

Another reason the first LTE handsets will need two chipsets is because voice traffic will continue to use the existing CDMA cellular network, while the data traffic will use LTE.

Lynch said during a panel discussion at MWC that getting voice to work over LTE has been particularly challenging. A new standard that Verizon and other companies in the GSM Association support will uses IMS technology to deliver voice services over LTE. Still, more work needs to be done.

Until a solution is complete, Lynch said that Verizon will use its CDMA network to provide voice services. And the LTE network will be used for data. Eventually, when voice over LTE becomes a reality, Verizon will use that technology.

Stone explained that the real challenge is integrating voice services on the new network with existing billing and provisioning systems.

The next generation of wireless networks will boost download and upload speeds, which will make accessing the Web on smartphones much faster. Verizon recently said that download speeds in tests of its LTE network are showing peak data rates of between 40Mbps and 50Mbps. And peak upload speeds are between 20Mbps and 25Mbps.

Average speeds are more likely to be about 5Mbps to 12Mbps for downloads and 2Mbps to 5Mbps for uploads. This is still a huge improvement over average 3G speeds of 400Kbps to 700Kbps.

Clearwire, which has partnered with Sprint Nextel, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Google, is already in several markets with its 4G wireless network using technology called WiMax. As of the end of February, when it announced fourth quarter earnings, the company said it operates in 27 markets, providing access to 4G wireless service to potentially 34 million people in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Honolulu. This year the company plans to offer service in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Houston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.

Sprint, as well as Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which also invested in Clearwire, resell Clearwire's service. So far, none of these companies are selling a mobile phone that can use the Clearwire 4G network. Sprint has said it plans to have a 4G-capable phone this summer.