Verizon 700 MHz LTE: We’re Done!

Verizon Wireless announced today that its 4G LTE network now covers 500 markets in 49 states and will launch next month in Alaska. It began building out its 700 MHz-based, LTE network in December 2010.

Verizon’s LTE network, using 20 Mhz on the 700 MHz band, is now available to more than 99 percent of its 3G footprint and to more than 95 percent of the entire U.S. population. Today, some 57 percent of Verizon Wireless’ data is carried on its 4G LTE.

With Verizon’s nationwide 4G coverage, the company is now planning the gradual retirement of its 3G CDMA networks on the 800 MHz band and 1.9 GHz PCS band. Verizon will start refarming PCS spectrum for LTE in 2015.

This year Verizon will start turning on LTE cell sites in its newly acquired Advanced Wireless Services spectrum. Verizon plans on launching LTE small cells using the 1.7/2.1 MHZ AWS band to add capacity in urban cores. Verizon paid $3.6 billion to buy cable’s (AWS) spectrum in 2011 (from SpectrumCo). Cox Communications also agreed to sell Verizon Wireless its 20MHz slice of AWS spectrum for $315 million.

Verizon will deploy 5,000 AWS sites by the end of 2013, and a lot more next year. Verizon says AWS will mostly be used for small cells in urban cores. T-Mobile is deploying LTE-A in the AWS band in some markets this year, while Clearwire is deploying LTE-A in the 2.6GHz band this summer.

The two dominant owners of AWS spectrum, by far, are now Verizon and T-Mobile. Both have comprehensive nationwide coverage. After AT&T lost their $39 billion merger bid with T-Mobile, they forfeited much of their AWS holdings to T-Mobile.

Verizon later swapped AWS spectrum with T-Mobile to give both sides more contiguous spectrum within the AWS-1 band.

As part of the failed merger deal, AT&T agreed to pay T-Mobile a cash payment of 3 billion dollars and AWS spectrum in 128 Cellular Market Areas, including 12 of the top 20 markets.

Verizon says their 700 MHz C band and AWS will be the two bands that will be for roaming. The big test will be whether Verizon will lock out T-Mobile on the AWS band.

Both AT&T and Verizon told the FCC that roaming was technically impractical for smaller LTE operators using the 700 MHz “A” block. That froze out the phones and LTE service of smaller operators, making them isolated islands, lowering their worth.

Trying to cut-off T-Mobile’s AWS service from roaming might be a tougher sell since both Verizon and T-Mobile’s AWS service share more power and operational specs. How Tom Wheeler plays his cards may be revealing.

According to Verizon Wireless Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer, by late 2014, Verizon will launch its first all-VoIP LTE-only phone. But VoLTE is not just about squeezing more voice calls into a given channel. With their large LTE footprint, LTE-only smartphones and single-mode LTE devices could be cheaper by eliminating 3G voice fall-back.

Palmer said Verizon’s service would include video-casting and other real-time multimedia communications features. As an IP service, VoLTE could be integrated into other applications such as over-the-top video applications.

Verizon is already testing VoLTE in trials and plans to launch the service, at first using traditional CDMA-LTE combo phones. Later it plans to launch cheaper VoIP-only phones.

According to Juniper Research, the total number of LTE subscriber globally is estimated to be 105 million this year and is expected to nearly double to 220 million world-wide in 2014.

The real growth of LTE happens in 2014-2017 as the Asia-Pacific region kicks in with their TD-LTE systems in China and India, with Japan and South Korea also adding significant numbers. The primary bands for LTE world-wide is expected to be 1800 MHz and 2600 Mhz. Unfortunately, the PCS and AWS bands in the United States are not globally aligned, so the 2.6 GHz band appears to be the most likely to provide global roaming.

Some 915 million LTE global subscribers are forecast by 2016, eclipsing one billion in 2017.

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