Verizon Wireless will adopt the LTE (Long-Term Evolution) mobile broadband system for its fourth-generation network, shifting away from its current technology path built on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access).
The carrier, the second-largest in the U.S., said in a news release Thursday it will begin trials of the technology next year with multiple equipment vendors. Vodafone Group, in the U.K., a part owner of Verizon Wireless, will also participate in the trials. Commercial deployment could come as early as 2010 and 2011, depending on the availability of devices and whether the market is ready, said Verizon spokesman Thomas Pica. It could be used on long-range 700MHz spectrum the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will auction off next year, he said.
LTE was developed in the 3GPP (Third-Generation Partnership Project) and is considered the next stage in the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology path. It is designed to deliver 100M bps (bits per second) per channel and give individual users performance comparable to today's wired broadband. Until now, Verizon has followed the CDMA path spearheaded by Qualcomm. Its current 3G (third-generation) network is based on EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized), and it is the biggest EV-DO carrier in the world's largest CDMA market.
"There's no denying this is a significant blow to the CDMA camp," said IDC analyst Godfrey Chua. If CDMA carriers in other countries such as China and India are on the fence about which 4G technology to deploy, Verizon's move could help push them toward LTE, he said.
Even as they roll out faster 3G technologies, mobile operators are eyeing 4G and weighing several technologies, most notably LTE, WiMax and UMB (Ultra-Mobile Broadband), the next evolution of CDMA. All are aimed at providing a ubiquitous broadband experience at multiple megabits per second. The other major CDMA operator in the U.S., Sprint Nextel, has already committed to WiMax as its 4G technology.
With LTE, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone can adopt a common access platform that allows roaming between the two companies' networks, Verizon said. Presumably, it will also give Verizon Wireless customers easier access to the networks of many other GSM carriers worldwide when they migrate to LTE.
Although the leap to 4G opens up opportunities for those carriers to shift to the CDMA track, going to LTE will be a natural evolution, IDC's Chua said. Roughly 80 percent of the world use GSM and related technologies, while about 20 percent use CDMA, he said. The U.S., South Korea and Latin America are the biggest CDMA regions, but the system is also used by some carriers in China and elsewhere.
Today, Verizon and Vodafone are awkward partners because Vodafone uses GSM and related 3G networks, and few phones can use both technologies. Globalization is making roaming capability more important, Chua said.
Commenting on Verizon's move, the CDMA Development Group said Thursday that CDMA-based 3G technology will continue to be a major source of carrier revenue for years and will be complemented by 4G. All 3G networks, including those on the GSM path, use technology from CDMA. The group also said it will make sure, through a program called WorldMode, that carriers have multimode devices that can work on both CDMA and other radio systems.