"Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service
@sdlawsonmedia Jun 27, 2013 6:20 AMprint
Verizon Wireless has completed the initial rollout of its 4G LTE network, covering 95 percent of the U.S. population, and is now looking to reuse other spectrum for LTE and deploy small cells using the technology.
On Thursday, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the carrier is announcing its 500th market served by LTE. The LTE network now covers 99 percent of the area served by Verizon's 3G network and reaches 298 million U.S. residents, the company said.
Verizon is the second-largest mobile operator in the U.S., measured by customers, and kicked off the first major national LTE rollout in the world in 2010. All the national U.S. carriers have followed suit, including Sprint Nextel, which had already offered 4G service with WiMax. LTE offers both higher speeds and higher efficiency than 3G, helping carriers meet growing demands for mobile data capacity. Verizon says its network has delivered its promised average speeds of 5Mbps (bits per second) to 12Mbps downstream and 2Mbps to 5Mbps upstream.
The LTE network now carries 57 percent of Verizon Wireless data traffic, said Nicki Palmer, chief network officer at Verizon Wireless, on a conference call on Wednesday. Verizon believes the 3G network reached its peak utilization earlier this year, but it will keep that system up and running at least through 2019, she said.
The initial LTE rollout that Verizon is finishing runs on frequencies in the 700MHz band, which is well suited for long distances. But the company plans to also use other bands for LTE in order to keep up with mobile data growth it forecasts at 700 percent to 800 percent over the next three years.
Step 1: Deploy its AWS spectrum – Second half of 2013:
Verizon will start turning on up to 5,000 LTE cell sites in the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum it acquired from the cable companies this year, adding additional capacity for LTE in urban cities. The spectrum gives Verizon 20 x 20 MGHz channels for LTE, essentially doubling its capacity and speeding up its network. The Samsung Galaxy S IV will be the first smartphone to take advantage of AWS via a software update later this year.(See Verizon Fires Up AWS Support.)
Step 2: Move towards a heterogeneous network (HetNet) – End of 2013:
A HetNet is made up of a patchwork quilt of small cells and macro cells. Verizon plans to begin deploying small cells towards the end of the year, putting it on the path towards heterogeneity. It confirmed in May that it will use small cells from Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson. The tiny base stations are just one part of its plan to beef up its 4G network. The carrier will also employ cell splitting and distributed antenna systems, although it's been quieter about Wi-Fi offload than its competitors. (See Verizon Taps AlcaLu & Ericsson for 4G Small Cells.)
Step 3: Launch Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) – Early 2014:
Verizon has had to push back its VoLTE launch date a few times as it's one technology it has to get right from day one. It has said the network will be ready for the 4G-voice tech this year, but that it won't commercially launch until it's worked out all the kinks. Palmer reiterated Thursday that the service will launch with quality of service baked in, along with rich communications services and HD voice, in early 2014 and will ramp up quickly thereafter. Rather than go on a market-by-market basis, VoLTE will be a biglaunch. But, don't expect VoLTE-only handsets until the end of 2015. It plans to keep its 3G safety net until at least 2020. (See Verizon Preps Network, Waits on Marketing Nod for VoLTE and CTIA: Verizon Pushes for Single-Mode LTE.)
Step 4: Refarm its PCS spectrum – 2015:
While 3G has life left in it, the first network to go once Verizon is comfortable enough with its LTE coverage will be its 2G network. Verizon said it will begin to refarm some of its PCS spectrum for other uses in 2015.
Step 5: Launch LTE-Advanced – Timing TBD:
LTE-Advanced is really just a menu of features that carriers can choose to deploy, and Palmer said Verizon will use the ones that make sense for its customers. But the one that makes the most sense for Verizon will clearly be carrier aggregation. The carrier has LTE spectrum in the 700, 1900 and 1700/2100Mhz bands, so it's in need of a way to stich them all together. Both AT&T and T-Mobile have said they will begin rolling out LTE-Advanced features this year. (See T-Mobile to Debut LTE-A 'Features' in 2013 and AT&T Plans LTE-Advanced in 2H13.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor,Light Reading