Operators reveal 700 MHz plans: LTE the big winner

The CTIA trade show would have been much more livelier had the winners of the 700 MHz auction been allowed to detail their plans for the spectrum. But the FCC anti-collusion restrictions were lifted April 3 in the afternoon, when the show floor had closed for the year.

Verizon Wireless executives on Friday morning assured investors the company's $9.36 billion investment in 700MHz spectrum will provide a long-term foundation for Verizon's business. Specifically, the company said that this year it will be conducting field trials of LTE. In 2009 it will select vendors, conduct some advanced device trials with a deployment planned for the second half of that year. By 2010 the operator plans to launch commercially and have rapid acceleration of its footprint.

Meanwhile AT&T, which spent $6.6 billion in the 700 MHz auction for B-block licenses, will also deploy LTE. The new B-block spectrum will be combined with AT&T's spectrum it acquired from Aloha Partners last year. Kris Rinne, senior vice president, architecture and planning at AT&T told the audience at last week's FierceMarkets Path to 4G conference, which was co-located with the CTIA show, that the company will likely deploy LTE in the 2010 time frame.

Interestingly, it doesn't appear AT&T has any open access plans for its spectrum and and in fact said the open-access stipulations placed on Verizon's C-block spectrum will give it an advantage in the market.

"With fewer costly and complex regulations, we have the certainty and flexibility needed to move faster in rolling out new mobile technology and more customer choices in devices and applications," said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's wireless business in a press release. "We will put our spectrum to work so that customers can do more with their wireless devices, the user experience is superb, and wireless connectivity can be embedded in more devices."

And we were under the impression that open access fosters customer choice in devices and applications.

With the two largest mobile operators now deploying the same 4G technology it should be interesting to see how each positions themselves in the market. For one, open access is a cumbersome thing. For the other, open access will make it the preferred partners for developers.

I also want to share with you some of the tidbits I learned at CTIA last week:

  • One CDMA vendor I talked to believes UMB, the 4G path for CDMA, is nearly dead. KDDI is reportedly the only operator interested in deploying it but only if some other operators commit as well--slim chance.
  • NextWave Chairman and CEO Allen Salmasi said the phone has been ringing off the hook at the company's headquarters now that the 700 MHz auction is over. Part of NextWave's strategy is to offer spectrum it owns to companies that want to enter the mobile broadband space using NextWave's end-to-end solution of products and services, which are numerous. Moreover, Salmasi said to expect to see NextWave involved in a major LTE trial later this year.
  • HSPA technology is reportedly facing capacity problems in Korea as the popularity of video services is hurting voice quality.--Lynnette

P.S. Group Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek will be talking about all the highs and lows from CTIA with Andy Seybold and Linda Barrabee of the Yankee Group on Thursday, April 10 at 2 p.m. EST. Be sure to tune into the lively discussion. Register here.