Verizon's Melone: Data market needs to be segmented further

Tony Melone, CTO of Verizon Communications
with Tony Melone, CTO of Verizon Communications

Before he was promoted to Verizon Communications CTO in December, Tony Melone was the CTO of Verizon Wireless and the mastermind behind the company's deployment of LTE. In his new role he is responsible for Verizon Communication's technology roadmap, including network architecture and product innovation.

At the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona last month, Melone sat down with FierceWireless Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek to talk about Voice over LTE, IMS and more.

FierceWireless: Are you accelerating your deployment of Voice over LTE?

Melone: I don't know that we are accelerating Voice over LTE. I think we have always planned to have Voice over LTE in the 2012 timeframe. I think we tried to push the envelope in terms of having the first test call made. I think we want to demonstrate to the industry that we are on track and get excitement about it and momentum around it. We think that [it's] important that the industry come together on this, which it has. This is not an island. 

FierceWireless: Are there enough other operators that will be deploying Voice over LTE in the timeframe that you are talking about?

Melone: All of the major LTE carriers are going to be deploying Voice over LTE in the standard format that has been agreed to. Timing is a question that I can't answer. I think the timing of Voice over LTE for those guys will be consistent with the time of their LTE deployment, but some will be faster than others.

FierceWireless: What about simultaneous voice and data? That has been a point of contention between AT&T and Verizon. Is being able to do that prompting Verizon to push for Voice over LTE?

Melone: No. Our initial launch of the smartphone for LTE, even though it's using CDMA voice, will allow simultaneous voice and data. It will happen to be voice on CDMA and data on LTE. Our implementation took that into account. VoLTE is more about taking advantage of the capabilities that a high-speed, low-latency mobile broadband network can provide on all applications. As [long as] the footprint allows, that is the platform that we want for everything including voice. And VoLTE is going to provide a rich experience. We have a short-term plan for simultaneous voice and data with our CDMA network. And VoLTE is a separate plan that creates a richer experience.

FierceWireless: Will pricing be impacted? Is VoLTE going to be more expensive to deliver than voice over 3G?

Melone: I'm not going to answer that. I will say this: CDMA is a very efficient voice technology, and LTE is a very efficient technology for both voice and data. Our decision to move from CDMA voice to VoLTE is not driven by [the] cost to provide the service. That's not a factor.

FierceWireless: So what is driving it?

Melone: It's two-fold. One is that VoLTE will allow richer communications services you can blend voice with other services. And the other thing is that when we can deploy VoLTE exclusively then we no longer need CDMA in the device, which reduces our costs. As we transition to LTE and as we have fewer CDMA devices on the network, we can refarm that spectrum. The strategy is all about that. It's not about the cost of providing the service.

FierceWireless: Do you have plans to go to CDMA 1X Advanced?

Melone: That's a tough question to answer because what's your definition of CDMA 1x Advanced? The way I'll answer it is this: There are things that CDMA Advanced--EV-DO and 1X--provide that are beneficial. One of them is something called reverse link interference cancellation. So things that can be done in software and in the network upgrade that we are interested in because it will extend the life of CDMA and EV-DO. What we are not going to do is implement CDMA 1X Advanced changes that require us to take out every channel card in every cell site to support it. Nor will [we] do changes that require expensive upgrades to phones.

FierceWireless: IMS is a term we talked about a lot six or more years ago. Why am I hearing buzz about IMS again?

Melone: IMS is not the end-all. It's not as big an enabler of the future.  IMS happens to be a platform that we decided to build LTE around. The reason for that is because we thought it had advantages and simplified architecture. Now we have a reason to do IMS, to deploy LTE, and now it makes sense to build around that IMS core. It simplifies the building of applications.

Does that mean that everything we do in the future is going to be IMS-based? No. But would we like it to be? Yes, it makes it easier for us. But if there is a compelling service that is not IMS based, and we want to deploy it--we can do that. It works with our other services too. Sometimes people make IMS to be bigger than it is.

If it's an application that we want to serve on wireline and wireless, we will push it hard for it to be IMS. But if it's not IMS, there are ways to do it.

FierceWireless: Is policy control important?

Melone: It is very important. The tools in LTE and in this 4G IP-mobile broadband network are available to do creative things. The policy engine is the brains of how you want the network to treat different things at different times. It's essential. It's important for us to take those tools and structure them in a way that is simple to implement and simple to communicate to customers. It's rational in terms of what customers would expect. 

One thing that we as an industry need to do is segment the data market better than we have. We have segmented the voice market over the years but the data market has been one market: Aircards are this price and smartphones are this price. 

I think when you talk about LTE and how the world will evolve you want an environment where people can dip their toes in the water and experience some of it, and then move up the value chain. These policy engines are a key ingredient in doing that.