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Coming Out With a Bang: Verizon’s LTE Lineup

Tue, 03/08/2011 - 9:30pm
Maisie Ramsay

Verizon went all out with the launch of its LTE network and didn’t hold back when it came to its LTE devices.

Verizon Wireless pulled out all the stops with the launch of its LTE network last December when it turned on the high-speed mobile broadband service in 38 cities and five dozen commercial airports, and it isn’t holding back when it comes to devices.

On top of the two USB dongles already running on its LTE network, Verizon plans to have 10 more LTE devices on the market by the middle of this year, including four smartphones from HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung; tablets from Motorola and Samsung; personal hot spots from Novatel Wireless and Samsung; and two HP laptops. One of those devices, the Motorola Xoom tablet, is already on the market.

Along with the devices, which were unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Verizon launched new applications and services highlighting the speed and latency capabilities of its LTE network. Verizon is pre-loading Skype’s mobile video chat app and Electronic Art’s Rock Band multiplayer game onto its new LTE smartphones; has created publishing tools through a partnership with Motricity so that developers can incorporate syndicated video feeds in their apps; and will soon launch its second LTE development center with the opening of the LTE Applications Center in San Francisco.

Clearly, Verizon is no slouch when it comes to building out its LTE ecosytem.

Verizon's LTE Lineup

“It’s not just an announcement of a phone, it’s a commitment to a new technology,” says Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney. “When you talk about your future, you need to show the future is now. You need to show that we are committed and will offer customers a wide range of options, just like we’ve done in the past.”

As of early March, Verizon had launched just one of its LTEupgradable devices, the Motorola Xoom tablet. Raney says Verizon is on track to launch the remaining nine LTE devices within the first six months of 2011.

Verizon laid the ground work for its LTE network and subsequent devices back in 2007, when the company committed to using LTE for its next-generation mobile broadband network. When it came time later on to develop devices for LTE, Verizon decided to work with many of the same vendors that had provided handsets, dongles and laptops for its CDMA EV-DO network.

“You absolutely are going to go to people who have proven they can deliver what you need. It’s a much easier process to go to OEMs who we have great relationships with,” Raney says. “For this initial start, it was important that we had people we knew could deliver, that would help us fulfill that commitment to our customers – and who were eager to work with us.”

The company built on its long-standing relationship with Qualcomm for its LTE devices, using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon MSM8655 processor as well as Qualcomm’s MDM9600 LTE modem chipset in several of its new devices, including the HTC Thunderbolt. Verizon also opted to extend its Droid franchise with Motorola into LTE with the Droid Bionic 4G, and tapped Samsung for a smartphone and an LTE version of the Galaxy Tab.

Verizon’s LTE-ready HTC ThunderBolt, Droid Bionic 4G and its unnamed Samsung device will each come equipped with a 1 GHz processor, 4.3-inch display and at least one 8-megapixel camera. The carrier’s fourth smartphone, the Android 2.2 LG Revolution, also will have a 4.3-inch display, plus a front-facing camera and the ability to support up to eight Wi-Fi connections through a mobile hot spot feature.

The carrier’s tablets have equally impressive specifications. The first LTE-capable tablet to hit the market, the Motorola Xoom, has a 10.1-inch touchscreen, front- and rear-facing cameras and a mobile hot spot capability. Its LTE-capable Samsung Galaxy Tab will have a 7-inch display, 1.2GHz A8 Hummingbird processor and front- and rear-facing cameras.

Verizon LTEupgradable devices

Netgear and Cisco have developed routers using Verizon’s LTE technology; Sierra Wireless has developed an LTE module for Verizon; and ST-Ericsson has built a modem compatible with Verizon’s new network.

Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research, was “impressed” with Verizon’s fasttrack timetable for its LTE devices and commended the company for bringing out devices on par with competing devices from Sprint, Clearwire and MetroPCS.

“The lineup they showed at CES is pretty diverse, with a number of different products that are on par with phones on the market today – they’re not deficient in comparison to smartphones you might think about buying from existing networks,” Golvin says.

Verizon is not without competition in the 4G device space. Clearwire has a variety of USB modems and personal hot spots on the market, and Sprint has three WiMAX smartphones. MetroPCS debuted its first Android-based LTE smartphone in February, making the Samsung Galaxy Indulge its second LTE device after the Samsung Craft, a BREW-based device which hit shelves last fall.

Raney says Verizon chose to go with a variety of smartphones, dongles, Wi-Fi hot spots and laptops rather than a single hallmark device because the operator wanted to give its customers the same options for LTE as they have for 3G.

Verizon makes launching a whole line of next-generation devices look easy, but it’s important to remember that not all deployments of next-generation technology have gone as smoothly. Golvin says Verizon’s LTE device lineup will have to avoid the pitfalls that dogged UMTS device launches in Europe when the region’s 3G networks came on line in 2002.

“With UMTS in Europe, the handsets were bulky, had very poor battery performance and they got physically hot – and there were some compatibility issues with handoff,” he says. “So while these LTE handsets look very promising from the perspective that they’re very competitive from a design standpoint, we don’t yet know what the actual battery performance is going to look like. That will be one of the important proof points for these devices when they are in fact in the market.”

Verizon hasn’t listed the battery life of the Xoom when it’s using LTE – the device has to be sent in for an upgrade to access Verizon’s LTE network – but says the tablet gets nine hours of life for Web browsing over a 3G connection and can last for up to 14 days on standby mode.

Verizon also will have to prove its devices can handle seamless handoffs between its EV-DO network and its LTE network. The launch of Verizon’s first two LTE-capable USB dongles went fairly smoothly, but the company had to issue a software fix on the devices after users reported delays of up to two minutes when the devices tried to switch between EV-DO and LTE. It remains to be seen whether users will experience similar issues with Verizon’s other LTE devices, but Verizon appears to have been able to solve the problem on its USB modems fairly quickly.

Phil Redman, wireless technology research vice president at Gartner, says Verizon’s LTE device lineup reflects the company’s top position in the wireless market.

“Considering this is something that’s so new, they’ve done an amazing job in getting the OEMs to move forwards quickly, not just with modems and PC cards, but with the number of devices they have,” Redman says. “It shows that Verizon is a global leader in wireless, not just in the U.S.”

Like Golvin, Redman says battery life and handoff will test the success of Verizon’s LTE devices, but he expressed confidence in

Verizon’s ability to resolve any potential issues. Verizon has set a high bar for both its LTE network launch and the development of devices running on that network. Raney says Verizon’s formidable ambitions stemmed from a desire to make good on its promise to provide better services to its customers.

“Announcing a phone is just announcing a phone,” Raney says. “We fulfilled a commitment to our customers, and that’s the difference.”

Verizon has matched the power of its LTE network with high-end smartphones that will rival Sprint’s HTC Evo and T-Mobile’s my-Touch 4G. Verizon is offering its customers topof-the-line network technology and the devices to match, and the company’s service and handsets are sure to be formidable competitors in the months to come.

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