Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) CEO Dan Mead said the carrier will deploy Voice over LTE technology in early 2014, and promised that the carrier will not deliver a poor experience in terms of voice quality when it does so.
"We're going to make sure we're the network quality leader," Mead said today at the Jefferies 2013 Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. He said that Verizon will look to launch "value-added" services on top of its VoLTE technology, including video calling and HD voice, though he did not provide specifics.
Mead said Verizon has been working on VoLTE as it wraps up the construction of its LTE network, which is scheduled to be completed sometime in the middle of this year. "We've been building the VoLTE infrastructure concurrently" with LTE, he said.
Interestingly, Mead also said Verizon will be "picking up the pace next year" on the deployment of LTE small cells. Verizon has said it has plans to deploy 200 LTE small cells this year, but has not given more details. Mead said that small cells will be a "complement to the core LTE infrastructure," though he acknowledged that providing backhaul and emergency power to small cells is difficult. Mead also reiterated that Verizon will start deploying LTE on its AWS spectrum this year to augment its capacity.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Mead also touched on the carrier's Share Everything shared data plans, the idea of toll-free data plans, and the state of competition among various smartphone platforms.
Regarding Share Everything, Mead said that the plans have allowed customers to do more things with their smartphones and tablets than before, and that the plans are encouraging more video consumption. He also said the plans--which come with unlimited voice and texting and allow users to share a bucket of data among up to 10 devices--have helped to cut down on customer service calls because customers have fewer questions about their voice and texting usage. "We see a lot of growth momentum there," he said.
Mead was optimistic on the idea of toll-free data plans. The most widely understood example of the model is Amazon's Kindle model, whereby the cost of downloading books is built into the price of the books. Mead said the concept "could be an early representation of the model" but he also mentioned advertising as another avenue the plans could take. He did not say when Verizon would offer such plans, but he said that based on the work Verizon and other carriers are doing to lay the groundwork for such plans, "I don't think it's going to be too long."
The basic concept of a toll-free data plan is that they would allow users to access a certain kind of content or content from a certain provider without dipping into their monthly bucket of data. In exchange, the content provider--most likely an over-the-top (OTT) player--would pay the carrier directly, strike a revenue-sharing deal with the operator, or form some other business arrangement.
On devices, Mead said Verizon has been encouraged by what it has seen so far with Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone operating system, and that Microsoft has managed to get a wide range of OEM partners (though Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is the dominant player). He said "three to four operating systems is good for the industry and good for us" and that Verizon is conscious of not putting too much emphasis on any one platform.
He also said "we think there is an important place for BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY)" and that Verizon still has many BlackBerry users on its network. Verizon has been selling the BlackBerry 10-based touchscreen Z10 smartphone and will soon start selling the Q10, which sports a Qwerty keyboard. "There seems to be a hunger for the Qwerty keyboard," Mead noted, adding, "We're hopeful that that will meet the needs of our customers who have been very loyal BlackBerry customers."
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