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Verizon taps LTE for 4G citing scale global harmonization

Date: 11/29/2007 5:17:27 PM

Verizon Communications is breaking from the CDMA camp, announcing today that it has selected Long Term Evolution, the 4G technology of competing GSM technologies, as its nextgeneration network architecture. The operator said it is working with Verizon Wireless partowner and GSM operator Vodafone to conduct joint LTE trials in 2008 across multiple markets in the U.S. and in Vodafone’s territories in Europe and Asia.

The implications of the decision could reach far beyond VZW’s own network, though. With Sprint already opting for alternate 4G than those promoted by CDMA’s standards body, the 3GPP2, Verizon’s choice of LTE could be the final nail in the coffin for Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB), the presumed heir to CDMA2000. In an industry where a technology’s success depends on the support of big operators, two of CDMA’s biggest operators have defected, and both LTE and WiMAX have now gained U.S. champions.

To deploy the trial network, Verizon is tapping its infrastructure vendors AlcatelLucent, Nortel Networks and Motorola, but it is also bringing in vendors from the GSM fold. Ericsson and Nokia Siemens will also participate in the trial, Verizon officials said, marking the first time that either equipment vendor has worked with the CDMA operator. But none of those vendors is guaranteed a contract, said Verizon Chief Technology Officer Dick Lynch. Each will set up shop in a different VZW or Vodafone market to demonstrate the merits of their own LTE solution, after which VZW and Vodafone will award commercial contracts.

Lynch said Verizon selected LTE in consultation with Vodafone after both companies examined the three standardized 4G technologies available. Verizon participated with Vodafone in a WiMAX trial in an international market where Vodafone holds spectrum, though Lynch would not reveal which market. The company also ran UMB kits through lab tests. Lynch said all three technologies performed remarkably the same, primarily because of their shared modulation scheme, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM).

“When we did the technical analysis, we decided there wasn’t that much difference between the OFDM of the 3GPP [GSM’s standards body] and the OFDM of the 3GPP2,” Lynch said. All three technologies offered high broadband capacities, would be available commercially at roughly the same time and were manufactured by the same vendors, he said. The decision then came down to business scale and a desire to harmonize its 4G plans with Vodafone’s other global networks, Lynch said. “It quickly became a decision between LTE and LTE.”

Unlike its previous network decisions, Lynch said, Verizon Wireless could not think of its own network and devices in isolation. Consumer electronics manufacturers and thirdparty applications providers will play a huge role in the next generation of networks, Lynch said, so it was critical Verizon adopt a technology the global carrier community could embrace and around which device makers would coalesce.

“If the next generation is going to be OFDM, we want it to be a single OFDM,” Lynch said.

The trials in the U.S. will most likely be conducted over Verizon Wireless’s Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum in the 1.9 GHz and 2.1 GHz frequencies, meaning it will have to be a frequency division duplexing deployment, splitting the uplink and downlink transmissions over separate bands. Verizon Wireless also plans to bid in the 700 MHz auction this January. The range of those frequencies would make them ideal for a new broadband network, but that spectrum won’t be cleared of its public broadcaster incumbents in time for the trials, Lynch said.

The only other U.S. operator to announce a 4G strategy is Sprint, which also left the CDMA evolution path, picking WiMAX rather than LTE. That leaves both major CDMA operators in the U.S. on a network evolutionary path other than the one promoted by the 3GPP2 (CDMA’s standards body). Traditionally CDMA operators and GSM operators have stuck to the technology migration paths laid out by their respective standards bodies. Both Sprint and Verizon Wireless followed the 3GPP2 from CDMAOne to CDMA2000 1x to 1x EVDO, just as GSM operators went the 3GPP route with GPRS, EGDE and finally UMTS and its highspeed packet access (HSPA) iterations. The reasons weren’t loyalty but rather ease of upgrade from one technology to the other.

But 4G represents a massive disruption point in both network paths. The transition from 3G to 4G requires an entirely new radio access network and IP core as well as new spectrum and devices. That presents operators with the choice of diverging from their allotted paths or switching to a different path altogether, and operators in the CDMA camp are definitely electing to change course.

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