Update: A previous version of this story misstated the total number of LTE markets set to go live after the launch. The actual number of markets will be 417, not 410.
SAN DIEGO - Verizon Wireless will light up its LTE network in 21 cities next week, making the service available in 417 markets.
The LTE deployment is currently two months ahead of schedule, Chief Technical Officer Nicola Palmer said at a MobileCON press event Tuesday.
The company has aggressively expanded the service since its launch in December 2010 and currently boasts the largest LTE footprint of any U.S. wireless operator.
More than 30 additional LTE markets will go live in November and December as Verizon pushes to cover its entire 3G footprint with LTE by the end of next year.
More than 35 percent of Verizon’s data traffic ran over its LTE network at the end of September, and a “majority” of data traffic is expected to be carried on the new network within a few months, Palmer said.
“In less than two years, we got to a point with LTE it took us eight years to get with 3G,” she said.
Verizon plans to soup up its LTE capacity with AWS spectrum recently gained through a deal with Comcast, Bright House Networks, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications.
When it petitioned the FCC to approve the transaction, Verizon said it could run into congestion problems as early as next year if it didn't add the AWS licenses to the 700 MHz C block spectrum it currently uses to run the service.
Palmer said Verizon would add AWS to its 700 MHz cell sites around the middle of next year, and will roll out devices compatible with the combination AWS/700 MHz LTE service around the same time. Technical trials are currently under way for the integration of AWS into its existing network.
Verizon also plans to leverage some features of LTE Advanced next year, though Palmer did not specify which techniques it will use. One likely candidate is carrier aggregation, which allows operators to bond disparate spectrum bands into a single, high-capacity channel.
"We will pick and choose the techniques to use and use them where it makes the most sense," she said, adding that Verizon is also adding new cell sites and splitting cells to boost capacity, and plans to make use of small cells.
Palmer also shared some details on Verizon's voice-over-LTE plans. It will be more than a year before Verizon launches the service.
"We have been testing it for a while. We've deployed all of the necessary infrastructure it takes to enable it and we're very excited about all the rich communications services that voice on our LTE network will enable," she said. "I expect we'll have something toward the end of 2013."
Prepaid carrier MetroPCS recently lit up VoLTE in a single market, but it said the difficulty of deployment means it will be months before it expands the voice service to additional cities.
As part of the AWS deal, Verizon pledged to sell off its 700 MHz A block and B block spectrum. Asked when the licenses would be auctioned off, Palmer said “it is being sold, we’re taking offers and we’ll proceed accordingly.”