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Verizon converges on global 3G

Farewell, WiMAX?

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US giant Verizon Wireless should one day use the same mobile phone technology standard as the rest of the world, Vodafone's chief hinted yesterday. It just might take a very long time.

Today Verizon uses the CDMA-EVDO flavour of 3G, in contrast to the W-CDMA flavour (also called UMTS) used in Europe and Asia. However, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin told an investor conference yesterday that Vodafone and Verizon would converge.

"It might be the year 2015 or so before complete integration occurs but are we headed toward the same platform? Yes, we are," Sarin told the Goldman Sachs technology conference, Reuters reports. Vodafone owns 45 per cent of Verizon, which is the second largest US cellco, neck and neck with AT&T.

The technology of choice is W-CDMA/LTE (for "Long Term Evolution") - a work in progress that isn't expected to appear in real products until 2010-2011. LTE is based on the OFDM radio technology used in Wi-Fi and WiMAX, rather than the CDMA used by 3G.

Verizon chief Ivan Seidenberg blessed the convergence strategy, saying it would "stimulate extensive growth by having a common platform".

No kidding.

It would also allow the US to benefit from global economies of scale, a greater choice of kit, and give the punter the ability to switch provider yet keep the same handset. You can be sure the operators will fight to prevent the latter happening, however.

The decision has a major impact on rival technologies, such as WiMAX, and the vendors with a stake in backing competing standards - such as Motorola, Intel, Alcatel-Lucent. And equally, it's likely to boost W-CDMA backers such as Ericsson and Nokia-Nortel. It will be seen as sidelining Qualcomm, but the San Diego company has a formidable OFDM patent portfolio it acquired with Flarion.

But for some planners at US operator Sprint-Nextel, it may look like Groundhog Day.

Nextel went out on a limb in the 1990s when it became just one of a handful of networks to adopt Motorola's iDEN technology. Now it's plumped for WiMAX, it looks like being the odd-man out once again.

As for US consumers and travellers, the benefits of compatibility and economies of scale won't be apparent until the US uses the same portions of the radio spectrum that the rest of the world uses.

And Google's doing everything it can to ensure that doesn't happen. ®

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