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Verizon Opens 4G Lab, Venture-capital Group

Verizon Wireless is bringing together venture capital firms and network equipment vendors, as well as opening a lab for testing devices, as it tries to make sure its LTE (Long-Term Evolution) business hits the ground running.

LTE will form the basis of Verizon's 4G (fourth-generation) mobile data network, which the carrier plans to roll out in Boston and Seattle later this year and launch commercially in 2010. Network vendors have claimed LTE is possible at about 100Mb per second downstream, though consumers' results will depend on a variety of factors including carriers' allocation of bandwidth. Verizon plans to have commercial service in at least 25 cities by the end of 2010.

Consumers have been slow to embrace many new types of mobile networks because the availability of compatible devices has lagged behind the building of infrastructure. Part of Verizon's strategy with its announcements on Monday, as the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show prepared for a Tuesday kickoff in San Diego, was to make sure there are ways for subscribers to use the network as soon as it's commercially available.

The carrier announced Monday it had formed the 4G Venture Forum (4GVF), which will include six venture-capital firms and Verizon's two main LTE infrastructure providers, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. The members will work together to identify promising applications of 4G technology and fund them, with the firms identifying as much as US$1.3 billion available for development, said Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson. The Forum is designed to help generate new ideas at innovative companies and improve the odds of their success, Verizon said. It will do so through investment, product incubation and market validation.

The group's scope isn't actually restricted to Verizon's network or LTE. It can support and fund 4G developments regardless of the underlying network technology, and the members have no obligation to work with Verizon and could work with other carriers, Verizon said. WiMax, the other major 4G technology, is already offered commercially by Clearwire in the U.S. and is technologically similar to LTE in some ways.

Also on Monday, Verizon announced the opening of a lab at its Verizon Wireless LTE Innovation Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. The lab will provide a place to test and develop devices and the applications that go with them on a functional LTE network, Nelson said. Engineers from Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as well as from Verizon will be there for assistance, he said. Although LTE will be aimed first at mobile computer use, handsets will follow, and other devices such as cameras may also make use of the high-speed network.

The Innovation Center will also provide expertise on device-to-network integration and matchmaking among players in the LTE ecosystem. There will be a virtual LTE Innovation Center for accessing the support resources of the lab and communicating with engineers there.

Venture-capital firms Alcatel-Lucent Ventures, Charles River Partners, New Venture Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners, Norwest Venture Partners and Redpoint Ventures will all participate in the 4GVF. Together, they have more than $9 billion under management, according to Verizon.

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