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Verizon preps LTE rollout for 2010

WiMAX suffers one-two punch

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The ongoing battle over which technology will rule the future wireless-broadband world has tilted strongly in favor of Long Term Evolution (LTE), thanks to two announcements at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

On Monday, Alcatel-Lucent announced a "multi-industry initiative" called ng Connect, which will support the establishment of 4G technology for "mobile phones, computers, cars, gaming systems and more."

And on Wednesday, Verizon CTO Dick Lynch reported that Verizon Wireless has partnered with Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson to build the United States' first commercial LTE network, scheduled for deployment beginning in 2010.

The ng Connect announcement specifically mentions "4G, Long Term Evolution (LTE), GPON, and other ultra high bandwidth technologies." Conspicuously missing is Intel's increasingly irrelevant wireless-broadband baby, WiMAX.

WiMAX has one advantage over LTE: it exists.

As deployed by the Sprint/Clearwire joint venture known as Clearwire, WiMAX is currently live in the US in Portland, Oregon and Baltimore, Maryland.

LTE, on the other hand, has only recently been feature-frozen by the 3GPP working group, and its formal ratification is set for next month.

That said, Motorola has been testing in the UK, and Verizon Wireless, working with Vodafone, is trying it out in the American midwest and New Jersey, as well as in Budapest, Dusseldorf, and Madrid.

And with the recent announcements by Verizon Wireless and Alcatel-Lucent, LTE's momentum is strengthening.

WiMAX, on the other hand, is hurting, wounded not only by this week's announcements, but also by less-critical developments such as Nortel's abandonment of it last year and Nokia's recent dropping of its N810 WiMAX smartphone from its product line.

Although Intel offers WiMAX as an option in its Centrino 2 platform, other chipmakers are embracing LTE. LG, for one, has demonstrated a high-speed LTE chip, as has Infineon.

But - as Intel is learning - chips don't make a market. Partners do. And the ng Connect initiative has been embraced by HP, Samsung, 4DK, Buzznet, chumby, Connect2Media, dimedis, FISHLABS, QNX, SIGNEXX, Total Immersion, TuneWiki and Words & Numbers, along with its sponsor, Alcatel-Lucent.

While most of those partners may be small fry, the big fish in the pond is certainly Verizon Wireless. As Dick Lynch said in a statement accompanying his remarks at the Mobile World Congress, "LTE enables us to continue to meet business customer demands for a higher bandwidth, low latency service that works broadly in the United States and globally."

In the same statement, Carl-Henric Svanberg, Ericsson's president and CEO, attempted to call an end to the WiMAX/LTE debate by saying "Verizon Wireless' deployment of LTE sets a unified direction in enabling true, global wireless broadband." That "unified direction," from Svanberg's point of view, will be based on a single technology: LTE.

WiMAX-champion Clearwire issued their own statement in response to Verizon's announcement. "Clearly, having more operators espousing the benefits of 4G can only serve to increase consumer awareness and demand for better services," the company said. "Today, Clearwire customers experience better speeds and bandwidth than what is being described as next year's LTE networks."

Clearwire also cited its own "key suppliers," which include Intel, Cisco, Alvarion, Nokia Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola, ZTE, and Huawei Technologies.

Note, however, that among that group Cisco is buiding LTE gateways, Nokia Siemens recently announced voice-over-LTE technology developments, Alcatel-Lucent has teamed up with Verizon Wireless and formed the ng Connect group, Motorola is testing LTE in Swindon, China's ZTE builds LTE equipment, and that country's Huawei Technologies plans to roll out LTE base stations by June of this year.

It appears that bets are being hedged in the wireless-broadband dust-up. And it also appears that the odds against WiMAX are lengthening. ®

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