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Now that LTE is here, what's next?

Matt Hamblen | July 1, 2013
Coming some day to a network near you: LTE-Advanced and LTE with voice.

Verizon Wireless' newest TV ad brags that it has "America's largest 4G LTE network" -- an obvious response to AT&T's claims of "the nation's fastest 4G LTE network."

In the continuing war between the nation's two largest wireless carriers, the battle of late has come down to, essentially, LTE network size vs. LTE network speed. That fight is reflected in the ads each carrier is now pitching.

A new Verizon ad shows crowds of people dancing, biking and sweeping through streets at night carrying sparklers and smiling in a Fourth of July-type celebration. That ad comes just as the carrier rolled out its 500th LTE city on Thursday.

Meanwhile, AT&T has continued a series of months-old TV ads featuring children talking to an adult and saying funny things while seated on the floor. The underlying theme: AT&T has "the nation's fastest 4G LTE network."

Earlier this week, AT&T said it had activated LTE in 291 cities.

It wasn't too long ago that Verizon claimed it had the fastest LTE network. However, AT&T has repeatedly bragged at having the fastest overall network nationwide, citing tests conducted by Root Metric and PC Magazine. In some major cities, Verizon was, on average, faster in the PC Magazine test, sparking a few analyst reactions that network speeds can be highly variable depending on the number of users, and that speeds will certainly improve as newer technologies like LTE-Advanced emerge.

Asked in a conference call on Wednesday about the LTE battle with AT&T, Nicola Palmer, chief network officer at Verizon, touted a comprehensive approach to LTE that includes speed, "yet more than speed," including reliability and broad coverage. Palmer noted that Verizon has even pushed into Alaskan cities and rural areas of the U.S. to offer LTE with 20 smaller carriers. She noted that Root Metrics and JD Power had found Verizon had the most LTE coverage of any network, increasing the likelihood of a customer accessing LTE.

Palmer stuck with Verizon's standard definition of its average LTE speeds: 5Mbps to 12Mbps on downloads and 2Mbps to 5Mbps on uploads.

Next steps in wireless networks
Since Verizon's data-only network now covers about 95% of the population, Verizon's next big network push will be toward voice over LTE, known as VoLTE, Palmer said. Verizon plans to roll out VoLTE all at once in 2014, not market by market, she said.

As VoLTE emerges, it means that Verizon can sell LTE-only phones, which eliminate some radio chips for 3G networks that now provide voice. That could lower costs on the phones.

Palmer also said that Verizon will be working "aggressively" to implement LTE-Advanced technology, using a technique called carrier aggregation to allow phones to use two or more radio channels combined to communicate, more than doubling network speeds. (Qualcomm has posted a short video description of carrier aggregation on its Web site.)


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