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Verizon's LTE launch: what to expect

Now that Verizon has started cranking up its hype machine for its LTE commercial launch next month, it's fair to wonder just what types of devices will run on the network.

Initially it seems that Verizon's LTE customers will be limited to USB dongles for their laptops. However they won't have to wait very long for LTE-based smartphones to come out as some industry watchers expect them to debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and to become commercially available shortly after. 4G technologies such as LTE and WiMAX represent the next stage in the evolution of wireless data technologies and generally deliver average download rates of 3Mbps or higher.

"They've moved up the timetable for LTE smartphones and now I'm hearing sometime in February 2011," says ABI Research analyst Phil Solis. "There will be a bunch of devices out in the first half of next year and there will be a focus on tablets."

Dan Hays, a director with management consultant PRTM, says that he initially expected Verizon to only offer straight data services as part of its LTE package, but it now appears that the carrier will have dual-radio devices that can offer data connectivity on a 4G network while having voice connectivity over its 3G network

Carriers and industry groups are still working on finalizing a standard for delivering voice traffic over LTE. The GSM Association earlier this year adopted the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) Initiative's IMS-based approach that can support features such as call waiting, call hold and call barring.

"Verizon has pushed the industry hard to make dual-mode devices available very quickly," he says. "The availability of voice-capable LTE devices is a surprise within the wireless industry as it had been widely expected that 4G networks would be largely limited to data-only at first."

But the big question for Verizon's LTE network isn't whether it will support smartphones in the first half of 2011 but whether it will finally land an LTE-capable version of Apple's popular iPhone. Although rumors of a Verizon iPhone have swirled for years now, Hays thinks that Verizon's LTE launch would be the perfect setting for Apple to debut a new iPhone model.

"It's quite likely that Apple will seek to take advantage of Verizon's 4G network," he says. "Having an LTE-enabled iPhone and adopting new technology early would fit squarely with Apple's overall strategy."

As far as LTE coverage goes, Verizon's initial launch next month will cover 38 major markets, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. By the end of 2013, Verizon plans to have all of its current base stations hooked up with LTE capabilities, meaning that most of the United States will be able to received LTE coverage.

"Compared to other mobile operators, Verizon will have the most coverage in the end," Solis says. "And from there they'll try to expand into areas their base stations can't reach by working through partner companies in rural areas.

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