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Verizon promises 4G for every American

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Verizon has promised to connect up the whole of America with 4G technology based on LTE, at 700MHz, belittling Sprint's WiMAX efforts on the same day that Telefonica demonstrated the first LTE calls and Nokia finally gave up on WiMAX.

Verizon built itself a national spectrum holding during the 700Mhz auctions, and CTO Tony Malone yesterday told reporters that the company was committed to rolling out LTE across the whole of the USA. The plan includes areas where Verizon has no presence at the moment, as reported by CNET.

Sprint's WiMAX network runs at around 2.5GHz, which means lots of bandwidth but short range, which in turn means densely packed base stations. Operating at 700MHz should allow Verizon to roll out much faster, and at less cost, but the low frequency means less data, or fewer customers per base station.

The ideal arrangement - and one that UK network operators are keen to exploit - is to have a nice high frequency in the city, where there are lots of users and base stations are easily constructed, then drop back to a lower frequency in the countryside where the lack of bandwidth can be offset against the number of people trying to use it.

The only difficulty, other than having licences for the appropriate spectrum, is that handsets have to be dual-band; and without international standardisation of the bands it's likely handsets will have to be very frequency-agile to gain the economies of scale necessary to get the prices down.

But at least LTE has the global support necessary to get the price down, unlike WiMAX which is unlikely to ever achieve the critical mass necessary. Telefonica today demonstrated an LTE handset downloading data, from a real cellular network, at 140Mb/sec: not that ordinary users will ever achieve that, but it knocks WiMAX into a cocked hat.

Also, with LTE progressing so quickly now, Nokia has decided to call it a day. The Finnish giant has never been a keen supporter of WiMAX, having too many patents on LTE to enthusiastically support the competition - but today it sniffily compared the technology to Betamax, and consigned it to a similar fate.

Covering all of America with LTE will be a major challenge, and it's unlikely Verizon is going to achieve that soon - but merely stating the intention is a signification promise, and one for which the company should be held to account. ®

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