Verizon skips Nortel as its shoots for 2010 LTE start

US carrier Verizon Wireless passed over Nortel in favor of new supplier Ericsson as it announced the world's first major LTE contracts at the Mobile World Congress on Wednesday.


The CDMA operator, who is Nortel's biggest customer, said Ericsson would join Alcatel-Lucent, one of its existing vendors, in providing LTE RAN and packet core equipment.  Starent Networks will also supply packet-core gear, while Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks will supply the IMS layer.


No financial details were disclosed, but the contracts will total billions. Verizon spent $17 billion on capital equipment in 2008.


Hinting at the influence of its major shareholder Vodafone, Verizon said the decision "comes on the heels of industry-leading LTE network trials in the United States and Europe, carried out in conjunction with Vodafone."


Announcing the winners in a speech at Barcelona, Verizon CTO Dick Lynch said the company expected a commercial launch in 2010, with ore-commercial trials taking place later this year.


"We plan to cover between 20 and 30 markets with LTE in 2010, and eventually provide complete and full coverage to the continental US, plus Hawaii, by 2015," Lynch said.


Lynch said Verizon would follow up its Open Development Initiative - which opens its network to device makers and apps developers who are free to use Verizon's APIs - with another initiative, the LTE Innovation Center.


Based in Massachusetts, the center will provide technical assistance and marketing assistance to device makers that want to make LTE devices for Verizon's network.


"Eventually LTE will be embedded into all sorts of consumer electronics devices," said Lynch. "People will expect everything to connect to the network."


Verizon is one of a handful of carriers eager to get on with LTE, even though the official standard from the 3GPP is only coming out next month. While most HSPA operators don't plan to deploy LTE before 2011, a handful of early adopters are driving vendors to have infrastructure gear ready in the second half of this year, says Bo Ribbing, strategic marketing director for Ericsson.


"CDMA operators like Verizon and KDDI are in a hurry to deploy LTE because they are stuck on a one-way street with EV-DO," Ribbing told "China Mobile has TD-SCDMA and wants to move quickly to TD-LTE.


And TeliaSonera, which was the first to sign an LTE contract, is sharing its HSPA network with someone else and wants their own network."


Vendors have been pushing hard to have LTE infrastructure gear commercially ready by the second half of this year. The good news is that in terms of technical performance, LTE is performing within expectations. Demos are rife at the Mobile World Congress making that point, with many of the above vendors, as well as Huawei Technologies, Nortel Networks and Motorola showcasing LTE in action.


Motorola has been driving a van around the conference venue at Fira de Barcelona streaming 8-Mbps HD video between the van and its exhibition stand, handing off the video between two base stations in the process.


However, the weakness in any early-deployment scenario remains devices. Neither Verizon nor Alcatel-Lucent made any reference to handset deployment. LTE data cards are not expected to hit the market in any significant quantities until mid-2010.


Lynch told GigaOm that LTE was all about data, with the 3G network being the prime voice network for many years to come.