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Verizon: Almost 50% of data traffic now goes over LTE network

LAS VEGAS--Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) said that almost 50 percent of its data load now travels over its LTE network. The figure is up significantly from October, when Verizon said that 35 percent of its data traffic moved over its LTE network. Further, the carrier said it expects overall data traffic to grow by a factor of seven during the next three years.

The increase in data traffic on Verizon's LTE network comes as little surprise. Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam this week announced that 23 percent of Verizon's customer base used LTE phones at the end of the fourth quarter, up from 16 percent at the end of the third quarter. McAdam also said that fully 85 percent of Verizon's postpaid net adds in the fourth quarter purchased LTE smartphones.

"We are very pleased with the performance of the (LTE) network," said Mike Haberman, vice president of network engineering for Verizon Wireless, in an interview with FierceWireless here at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.

Haberman noted that Verizon now covers 273.5 million POPs with LTE, or roughly 89 percent of its U.S. footprint. He also said the network's reliability--the ability for customers to establish an LTE connection--is roughly the same as Verizon's CDMA EV-DO network, though he declined to provide specific statistics.

Interestingly, Haberman provided a high-level view into Verizon's network plans for the next few years. He said the carrier expects to largely complete its LTE network buildout by the middle of next year.

Haberman said Verizon plans to begin turning on LTE services in its AWS spectrum this year in locations where it needs extra capacity. He said in 2014 the carrier will use carrier aggregation technology to combine data transmissions over its AWS and 700 MHz spectrum to improve speeds and capacity.

He also said Verizon will eventually refarm its 850 MHz spectrum for LTE services--the carrier currently runs CDMA over that spectrum. However, Haberman said the refarming is scheduled for the "distant future." (Verizon has committed to running its CDMA network through the end of this decade.)

Haberman also said Verizon plans to launch small cell technology starting this year as a way to improve its network coverage and performance. He said Verizon plans to continue to rely on distributed antenna systems in the future, technology that it has already deployed in select locations. Haberman said small cell and heterogeneous network technology are all technically part of the LTE Advanced standard.

Haberman said Verizon's goal is to ensure its network is reliable as well as fast. "It's more about consistent speed," he said.

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Article updated Jan. 10 to correct information about Verizon's MIMO. The carrier offers 2x2 MIMO today and has no further plans for the technology.