Verizon to launch carrier aggregation, more LTE Advanced features in 2015

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BEDMINSTER, N.J.-- Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) plans to launch carrier aggregation for its 700 MHz and AWS spectrum in 2015 along with other LTE Advanced features, according to a Verizon executive.

 Mike Haberman, Verizon's vice president of network support, verizon

Haberman

Mike Haberman, Verizon's vice president of network support, said Verizon is testing carrier aggregation right now on its network to ensure it can work properly, and devices that can support carrier aggregation will come into the market after that. Carrier aggregation, which is the most well-known and widely used technique of the LTE Advanced standard, bonds together disparate bands of spectrum to create wider channels and produce more capacity and faster speeds.

Haberman, speaking to reporters in a roundtable discussion at Verizon's device testing lab here, said that Verizon has not had to rush to deploy carrier aggregation because most of its AWS spectrum holdings across the country are already 20x20 MHz blocks. Carrier aggregation, in its most basic form, can merge together two 10x10 MHz blocks, which Verizon already had in many markets, he said.

However, carrier aggregation will enable Verizon to meld a 10x10 MHz 700 MHz block and a 10x10 MHz AWS block. Verizon, which has started refarming its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum for LTE, could also use carrier aggregation with PCS spectrum, Haberman said. Doing carrier aggregation will deliver higher peak speeds for customers, he said.

By mid-2015, Verizon will be able to aggregate a 10x10 MHz block in the 700 MHz band and a 20x20 MHz AWS block to have 30x30 MHz channels. However, not all devices will be able to take advantage of that technology, and Verizon will need to either seed the market with those capable devices or issue software updates to devices so they can access the technology.

AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) has deployed carrier aggregation over both 700 MHz spectrum and 2100 MHz AWS spectrum, and Sprint (NYSE: S) plans to do so for its 2.5 GHz TD-LTE service by year-end. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) too is planning to implement carrier aggregation.

In addition to carrier aggregation, next year Verizon is going to add other LTE Advanced components to its network that may not be as consumer-facing but will nonetheless enhance capacity, coverage and the overall experience on the network, Haberman said. One of them will be enhanced inter-cell interference coordination (eICIC), which allow small cells and big macrocells to coexist in the same spectrum and talk to each other. 

Another LTE Advanced technology Verizon will introduce is higher orders of MIMO. Currently, Verizon's network supports 2x2 MIMO, meaning two transmitters and two receivers, which is a standard for LTE. Haberman said Verizon will be launching products that support 4x4 MIMO, which he said will improve devices' uplink performance and enhance coverage.

Haberman also confirmed that in addition to New York City, Verizon has started refarming PCS spectrum for LTE in Cleveland and around 10 other markets. Haberman said that Verizon will refarm its PCS spectrum for LTE as usage decreases on its 3G CDMA network. Additionally, he said that, as more customers use Voice over LTE, that will free up more PCS spectrum that is currently used for voice service.

In terms of VoLTE, which Verizon launched in September, Haberman said the "deployment has been excellent" and that "a lot of people have joined the system."

Verizon now says seven devices support its nationwide VoLTE service, including the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, LG 2, and Motorola Droid Maxx and Droid Mini. However, the new iPhones do not support VoLTE video calling (presumably because Apple's FaceTime video calling application takes precedence).

As VoLTE continues to mature, it will gradually become Verizon's default voice offering, Haberman said, but he declined to give a timeline for when that will happen. He noted that Verizon only needs a 2.5 MHz channel for CDMA voice on any given carrier (1.25 MHz each for transmitting and receiving), and the operator can therefore afford to refarm some PCS spectrum and continue offering CDMA voice.

As Verizon refarms its PCS spectrum, he said, "people are not going to notice any change in CDMA performance." He added: "We're going to have a very graceful migration." Verizon plans on continuing EV-DO operations on its CDMA network until at least Dec. 31, 2019, Haberman said, especially for larger M2M customers.

Interestingly, Haberman also hinted that in the near future Verizon will be launching an LTE femtocell for customers to boost their coverage indoors. Any customer who wants to purchase one will be able to do so, he said.

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