Are Verizon and Sprint rolling out CDMA Rev. B?

Lynnette LunaDespite denials from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NASDAQ:S), research firm Telecom Pragmatics maintains that the two operators plan on deploying EV-DO Rev. B.

The research firm issued a press release last week indicating top Verizon management is getting cold feet over whether a nationwide LTE play is the best course for the operator. Telecom Pragmatics said the thinking at the carrier is that LTE can be deployed in certain areas while EV-DO Rev. B, the multicarrier version of EV-DO, can be used in other parts of the country. The firm claims Sprint is also working on Rev. B.

Both carriers rebutted the claims. "Verizon Wireless is not working on EV-DO Rev B. We're locked and loaded for LTE," said Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson. Sprint spokeswoman Kelly Schlageter also indicated Sprint is not prepping Rev. B. "We are moving directly to WiMAX," she said in an email response to a query from FierceWireless.

But Sam Greenholtz, co-founder and principal of Telecom Pragmatics, didn't back down on the company's assertion: "Our company, Telecom Pragmatics, is finding it increasingly difficult to find people at Verizon that do not believe that the wireless service provider is going with Rev B. The only individuals that seem to be in the dark about it are the public relations people at the company. In fact, it is not out of the question that a Rev. B upgrade could occur as quickly as the start of next year," he wrote on the company's blog.

Interestingly enough, the firm's claims come as AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) changes its plans yet again on HSPA+. Now the operator says it plans to roll out HSPA+ to more than 250 million potential subscribers by 2010. The move is a reversal of what AT&T said in September--that it had no intention of deploying HSPA+ but rather would accelerate its LTE plans. Now the operator is moving forward on HSPA+ this year, though is sticking to its previously announced plan to begin deploying LTE in 2011.

ABI Research analyst Phil Solis said AT&T's plan to stick with its current LTE timeline "demonstrates that they do not feel the LTE ecosystem is ready at this point. AT&T will have two trial cities by  the end of 2010, and launch LTE in a portion of its network at the end of 2011--a schedule that seems a full year behind what Verizon Wireless is doing."

But back to Rev. B: I don't think it's dead. I think it may be sitting on the back burner as an option to fill in CDMA operators' 4G holes down the line. I think HSPA/HSPA+ operators that are deploying LTE are doing the same thing with future iterations of HSPA. These technologies serve as a good fallback when LTE deployments don't go exactly as planned, whether because of technology or economic reasons. The problem is you can't predict when these fallback technologies will come to market.

Indeed, EV-DO Rev. B is actually making some progress, and is expected to grow in places where there isn't any spectrum for 4G or where data growth isn't as aggressive, notes Caroline Gabriel at Rethink Wireless. To wit: Alcatel-Lucent recently signed a Rev. B deal with Russia's largest CDMA operator Sky Link, and ZTE is working with Tata in India on Rev. B trials. China Telecom and Japan's KDDI are also deploying Rev. B., while Indonesia's Smart Telecom has already deployed the technology. Rev. B does require new devices, but with operators like China Telecom, KDDI and perhaps Tata on board, that's a pretty good driver of economies of scale. So dual-mode Rev. B devices aren't out of the realm of economic possibility down the line. --Lynnette