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4G forecast: More details on Verizon's LTE plans

Verizon Wireless will bring a next generation of wireless broadband to 30 "National Football League cities" by the end of this year--but you'll have to wait a little longer to find out just which places it has in mind and what its 4G service will cost, among other details.

The carrier provided those outlines at a briefing in Bethesda last week; I was invited but couldn't make it, so I was glad to see Wayne Rash write it up for eWeek. Verizon has since posted a teaser page on its site that only invites people to leave their e-mail addresses for updates.

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Verizon's network upgrade will take it from today's 3G technology, which delivers advertised downloads up to 1.4 megabits per second (Mbps) and uploads topping out at 800 kilobits per second, to an "LTE" (Long Term Evolution) standard that should initially support downloads of 5 to 12 Mbps and uploads of 2 to 5 Mbps.

The eWeek story by Rash (an occasional Post contributor) revealed other useful tidbits. Verizon expects significantly lower latency over LTE than 3G, which should ease video-conferencing and other real-time services. It will support the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) standard that lets users of GSM phones buy one card and pop it into the devices of their choice--although Verizon's LTE phones won't necessarily run on the same frequencies as those of other carriers.

All that's left to figure out are the makes and models of Verizon's LTE devices (no, I still don't know if they would include an iPhone), what LTE service will cost and what sort of usage limits will come with it. Oh, and what cities will get it first. I'm assuming that the NFL-cities line shouldn't be read literally; if that carrier really brings LTE to Green Bay before Los Angeles, I'll grill and eat a football.

(Update, 9/27, 6:30 p.m. In the comments, valued commenter Bob_Dobbs writes that Verizon Wireless had neglected to mention that its 4G network won't provide voice service. I checked with Verizon publicist Melanie Ortel, and she confirmed his post. Although the company plans to treat voice calls as just another type of data on LTE, for the time being it will continue to carry them on its older 2G, "1xRTT" service. Ortel did not provide an estimate for when Verizon would switch from 2G to voice-over-Internet-Protocol calling.)

Here's where Sprint's PR people, having invited me to inspect a 4G cell site on the roof of an Arlington apartment building two weeks ago, would like me to write that Sprint beat Verizon to 4G. Sure: Sprint's 4G service, an older technology called WiMax instead of LTE, debuted in late 2008.

But the network built by Sprint and its partner Clearwire, which sells a separate data service called Clear, has had a slow, spotty rollout. It arrived in York, Pa., before New York--or Los Angeles or San Francisco, among other cities left out so far.

WiMax phones also can't roam on other carriers' LTE networks. But as Sprint reps confirmed during the cell-site visit, switching a site from WiMax to LTE basically amounts to upgrading the software at each transmitter. (Other data points collected during that rooftop tour: Sprint's WiMax transmitters use a lot less electricity than its 3G hardware; its WiMax system uses microwave-wireless relays for "backhaul" connections to the Internet instead of costly wired links rented from other carriers; Sprint PR should have scheduled this visit for the evening of July 4th.)

What about AT&T? Its 3G-to-LTE upgrade won't start going online until the middle of next year, it revealed last week. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has been upgrading its network to an enhanced flavor of 3G called "HSPA+"; its downloads and uploads are close enough to LTE's and WiMax's that T-Mobile calls them "4G speeds."

Now you tell me: Is the prospect of 4G access something you've started to factor into your smartphone shopping? What sort of real-world benefits would you want 4G to bring over 3G, and how much extra would you pay for them?

By Rob Pegoraro  | September 21, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Mobile, Telecom  
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Comments

I'm not factoring it in, but I'm not really a high value target for the carriers. I'm still using a Motorola Razr. Which is aging, and will probably be replaced with a Droid X in a month or two.

Posted by: wiredog | September 21, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm most interested in reliable, unlimited, sharable 4G service for laptops and netbooks. Of course, this has to be at a reasonable cost. When one of these services figures this out, I'll buy. I definitely want to dump my land-line. But, right now, it's inexpensive and reliable and WiFi hotspots pretty much exist everywhere.

Posted by: bjrenton | September 21, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

@bjrenton
You want "reliable, unlimited, sharable ... at a reasonable cost".

Never going to happen. If only because bandwidth is not infinite.

Posted by: wiredog | September 21, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

One thing Verizon glosses over (or ignores) in its announcement is its voice service will stay on its 3G network for several years, until Voice over IP is reliable enough on 4G (through building enough cell sites to have seamless coverage). I am surprised Wayne Rash didn't address that. Maybe it is not that big a deal. Verizon's 4G will just be data-only for several years.

Since Sprint and Verizon use the same 3G technology, one could have a smartphone with either LTE or WiMAX, but defaulting, regardless, to 3G in the event of 4G coverage problems. That would also enable roaming between Sprint and Verizon networks, at 3G anyway.

A bit of trivia -- Verizon's voice service is actually based on 15-year old 2G radio technology, for which 3G is backward compatible. That's not a problem. Voice only needs about 10 kbps. Seamless coverage, as today's networks have now (well, almost) is more important than high data rates for voice.

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | September 21, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Well, Sprint is already charging 10 more bucks for their 4G phone service, which still doesn't work in most of the US, I would see all the carriers following suit trying to do the same, and try to ripe off the customers in the name of speed and convenience, and although i know that the new technology cost money, they are gonna save in maintenance and other related costs, but once fully implemented it'll become a huge revenue stream por the telcos; I'm not holding my breath for them to be reasonable with the price, they are greedy and unreasonable like the have been in the past and will be in the future till the Internet put a stone in their grave.

Posted by: humb1962 | September 21, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I rushed to buy a Verizon DroidX . with the promise of Android 2.2. I am still waiting. I contacted Customer Service. They absolutely avoided my concern. Right now Verizon has as much credibility with me as a Popsicle. I would not count on 4G. Sorry!

Posted by: GMLaCosta | September 21, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

In all fairness: Verizon squeaked by at the last moment. I received a call (from a friend) this morning 6:00 AM that 2.2 was available for manual download.--it works like a charm ..

Posted by: GMLaCosta | September 22, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

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