Mobile Sands

April 18, 2009

Verizon’s Open Device Initiative – now with LTE

Filed under: eBooks, LTE — Tags: , , , — AJ @ 5:00 am

Verizon today released its initial set of technical specifications for “open devices” that will run on its LTE network. The specs are avilable at www.verizonwireless-opendevelopment.com. Intrigued, I decided to register, download the specs and read some more about Verizon’s ODI. Verizon also has scheduled a web conference on May 13th that I plan to participate (if you would like me to ask any questions, please post them as comments on the blog)

Devices for LTE

As the first operator in the world to deploy LTE, Verizon must be thinking hard about what to do with the network, especially in the first 12-24 months when there will be few compelling consumer devices and apps.  As with EV-DO, the first devices sold to consumers will be data modems. Verizon has also been positioning LTE as a way to address the rural broadband problem and has recommended that its LTE network be included in the national broadband coverage map that NTIA is putting together.  

To go beyond broadband coverage, Verizon needs new hardware and software applications that leverage its network. Its competitor, Clearwire, is making the same push and recently announced a WiMAX “sandbox” network in Silicon Valley. The device specifications that Verizon has released at this stage are limited to communication features of the device i.e. how one can get a LTE modem certified.  It is a good start. However, before application developers start investing, Verizon will have to provide information on:

 

  • allowed application development platforms and OSs
  • pricing – per MB and for “unlimited” usage
  • policy towards bandwidth hungry applications like video 
  • policy towards applications that may be compete with Verizon services
  • services offered by Verizon’s to-be-built LTE core
  • (and perhaps, more)

 

Perhaps, some of these questions will be answered on the May 13th call, and more details will appear soon after. 

Verizon’s Open Device Initiative (ODI) So far

It is worthwhile to look at the track record of ODI so far. When Verizon announced it last year, it was touted as “Any App, Any Device”.  And folks like Gizmodo believed that, “a small company with mobile knowhow can develop and get their iPhone-killer certified and on Verizon’s network with minimal interference”.  

Perhaps, that may happen some day, but not yet. The devices Verizon has certified so far are:

  • modems for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, from BlueTree, Cal Amp and Telular
  • smart grid communication devices from Ambient and OpenWay
  • routers for sharing your EV-DO connection from folks like Cisco
  • specialized PCs like Motion Computing’s mobile clinical assistant 

From the website, it does not seem that the ODI program is very well staffed. For instance, both the devices announed at CTIA on 04/02/09 – Motion Computing’s Mobile Clinical Assistant and Sierra Wireless’s USB 598 – were not listed on the page for certified devices on 04/18/09 . I was able to read all the posts on the developers’ forum (yes, all) in less than 15 minutes and all the Verizon replies were from one person, with many questions unanswered.

Further the ODI program focuses on devices only, not on applications. So, if you want to an application certified, you need to go to http://www.vzwdevelopers.com.  The ODI program seems to be limited to device certification. There is no information on how data plans are priced on these devices. That is still a case-by-case discussion.  

Even if we believe that no one has submitted an iPhone-killer for approval, it is surprising how few devices have been certified so far.  Perhaps there are dozens of devices in the pipeline! At CTIA, Verizon’s Tony Lewis did say that the carrier has been approached by five Kindle rivals (Kindle runs on Sprint’s EVDO network) and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg forecasted the proliferation of M2M devices will lead to 500% wireless penetration.  Or perhaps, Verizon has a long way to go in making the process really easy and streamlined.


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February 26, 2009

Verizon’s LTE Rollout – Lessons from CDMA

Filed under: 3G, LTE — Tags: , , , , , , , — AJ @ 5:58 am

There is lot of speculation in the press, among analysts and in the blogosphere about the timing of Verizon’s LTE deployment. This is unfortunate considering that Dick Lynch has actually provided very clear guidance.  In his interview with Sue Marek of FierceWireless he said, “…when we launch we will do what we did with 1xEV-DO and 1XRTT…” 

Verizon, under Dick Lynch, has been remarkably consistent in its process for deploying new air interface technologies. If one digs through years of Verizon press archives, one will find that Verizon’s EV-DO rollout followed the same process as its 1xRTT rollout.  At both those occasions and now, Dick Lynch was at the helm and we should not expect anything different for LTE.

As in EV-DO, Verizon has initially selected two vendors for LTE.  For EVDO, these two vendors were Lucent and Nortel. For LTE, it is Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson. This does not mean that Verizon will not have a third vendor.  In EV-DO, the third vendor was Motorola, and as Dick said in his FierceWireless interview, “The rest of the vendors will have another opportunity in the future. We will go out again in mid-2010 and look for vendors for the next wave of the coverage”.

As in EV-DO, each LTE vendor has been assigned one city that each is expected to get on the air in 2009. For EV-DO, Nortel had San Diego while Lucent had Washington DC.   Once the two cities are on the air, each vendor will be expected to work out all the kinks in its products, a process well known in the industry as “First Office Application (FOA)”. A FOA can take anywhere from 3-9 months, depending upon the complexity of the system and the quality of the vendor’s product.

Once FOA is complete for LTE systems, either by the end of 2009 or in early 2010, Verizon is saying that it will start building out a sizeable national footprint.  In the EV-DO case, Verizon announced its decision to start building a national footprint in January 2004. Within 9 months, Verizon had launched EV-DO service in 14 metropolitan areas and by Aug 2005,  it covered 52 metropolitan areas.  All these services were launched using EV-DO data cards.  If Verizon’s LTE vendors can wrap up their FOA by Q1’2010, expect Verizon to at launch LTE data cards in dozen or so markets by Q3 or Q4 of 2010.

The other key player whose actions determine the pace at which Verizon can roll out LTE services is QUALCOMM. Verizon cannot launch an LTE handset (smartphone) unless this handset supports both 1xRTT and EV-DO. It needs 1xRTT to support all the legacy voice features (tough to replicate on IMS) and needs EV-DO for data service wherever there are LTE coverage holes. QUALCOMM is the only company that can build a dual-technology LTE/CDMA chip, and it is doing just so. On Feb 16th, Qualcomm introduced its MSM 8960 3G/LTE chipset, and said that this chip will sample in mid-2010. Since handset vendors need at least 12 months from the date Qualcomm samples its chipsets, to build a commercial device, one should expect the first dual-mode CDMA/LTE handset to reach the market in Q3’2011.

To summarize:

  • Verizon is likely to light up two cities with LTE in 2009 and have meaningful national footprint in 2010. They have a playbook for large scale wireless rollouts and they seem to be following it.
  • There will be no LTE handsets/smartphones in 2010,  just data cards. Therefore, Verizon will continue to add capacity to their CDMA network at least till the end of 2010.
  • Expect CDMA/LTE handsets to reach the market in Q3’2011. 

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