At a Wells Fargo Summit last week, Verizon Wireless CTO David Small talked about the company’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G rollout, its spectrum plans, voice over LTE and wireless backhaul.
Verizon Wireless has about a third of the country covered with LTE at this point; it introduced its 4G network in December 2010 with 110 million POPs in 39 markets. The company quickly followed with an announcement in January of another 49 markets and, at the recent CTIA show, it touted the addition of 59 more. (For more, click here). The carrier is on track to have full deployment by 2013.
"We’ve said, by the end of 2011, we will be at 185 million POPs," noted Small. "It could end up being 190 million, depending on what we see out there in the marketplace, but no material change to the rollout schedule.”
He continued, “We have strived to have about 70 percent of the POPs covered in any particular market when we first turn that market up. But then, quite frankly, the day after we turn that market up, we are back in that market, optimizing handoffs, looking at in-building systems, looking at incremental coverage sites so that we can really blanket the entire market in a very, very solid way."
Verizon Wireless has 22 megahertz of spectrum in the upper 700 “C” block but, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) talks about a spectrum shortage and as AT&T argues in favor of its acquisition of T-Mobile because of its need for more spectrum, Verizon also is assessing its spectrum options.
"We will utilize our 700 spectrum," reiterated Small. "When we feel like we have, for the most part, filled that up and we think about where we go next, we do think about our AWS spectrum, which we own a significant portion of across the country. And then beyond that, we kind of think about our 850 and our 1900, and you re-farm some of that spectrum."
Jennifer Fritzsche, the Wells Fargo Securities analyst who interviewed Small at the technology summit, said, "There’s a new acronym popping up in our world – VoLTE, voice over LTE." Small tackled that by saying Verizon wouldn’t do anything that would tarnish its reputation for high-quality voice service, but the company is looking at various factors related to VoLTE.
"We want to make sure that whatever we do is very secure to the same extent that we have today for our customers," he said. "Beyond that, then we obviously have to think about roaming and how it might interact with our existing network and how the handoff process may or may not work. Then you obviously think about the handset ecosystem and, at some point, there will come a time when we don’t have multiple radios in a particular handset, and it will be a pure LTE device with VoLTE. But I don’t see that happening in the next year or so."
Verizon Wireless set a certain number of cell sites for its LTE rollout, and it also set a target for how many would have fiber-based Ethernet backhaul as opposed to any other kind of backhaul.
"We feel that fiber is the way to go," said Small. "We have actually been pretty encouraged with what we are seeing in terms of competition out in the marketplace…the legacy local exchange carriers, the telcos, you think about power companies, the cable companies."
Small said all of these backhaul providers know Verizon is likely to need their services far into the future. "If their performance is up to our standard in terms of what we need, we will be there for a very long period of time," he promised. "So we are making some adjustments as it relates to length of term on a contract in exchange for making sure we have that fiber-based solution."