Is UMB dead?

Is UMB dead?  

Yesterday's news that CDMA stalwart Verizon Wireless is going to build its next-generation network using Long Term Evolution, or LTE, rather than upgrading to the CDMA alternative called UMB, or ultra mobile broadband, is a big blow to the CDMA industry.

Currently there are no operators endorsing UMB and some believe that Verizon's planned trial and deployment of LTE is a death knell for UMB. "UMB is dead right now," said industry analyst Iain Gillott, founder of iGillott Research in an interview yesterday.

I agree with Gillott. When a large operator such as Verizon deviates from the proposed air interface technology migration path, it seems likely that other CDMA operators will follow and select LTE as well. In the U.S., operators such as Alltel have always mimicked Verizon's technology path in order to maintain their lucrative roaming relationship.

Of course, some believe that Verizon's announcement means that finally the U.S. will have a unified wireless technology platform. However, that's not quite the case yet. Verizon's LTE devices, which are expected to be available as early as 2010, will have to be backwards compatible to the operator's existing CDMA network, making them different from any LTE devices offered from operators such as AT&T and T-Mobile USA. Both AT&T and T-Mobile are expected to migrate to LTE, which is a fairly easy transition for GSM operators.

Vendors such as Ericsson, which has been a long-time proponent of LTE, were encouraged by yesterday's news. I spoke with Angel Ruiz, president of Ericsson's North American operations late yesterday and he said that the news is significant for the firm, which is one of the vendors selected to work on Verizon's LTE trial. "We have been working with Verizon for some time. This is the third phase of a trial where our equipment will be deployed in their labs. This is a big step for us," Ruiz said.

The CDMA Development Group's response to Verizon's announcement yesterday was to say that it works with many service providers around the globe who support more than one radio technology and that CDMA networks will likely be complemented by a number of different air interface technologies including LTE.

That's a safe response considering that LTE appears to be gaining a lot of momentum. In fact, Juniper Research just announced that it believes that 24 million subscribers will be using LTE technology by 2012.

On another note, FierceWireless is launching a new feature called Sound Off, in which we ask members of the wireless industry to speak out about a hot topic. Click here to see what people are saying about Verizon's open access announcement. -Sue