with Nicola Palmer, CTO of Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) was fairly low-key at last month's Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain. The Tier 1 U.S. operator didn't make any big announcements but instead the company's key executives were at the show, quietly working behind the scenes on some important strategic issues, such as international roaming. In a one-on-one discussion with Verizon Wireless CTO Nicola Palmer, FierceWireless Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek talked with Palmer about the company's international roaming strategy, its plans for building out its AWS spectrum and its timeframe for deploying Voice over LTE.
FierceWireless: Verizon isn't announcing any news at Mobile World Congress. What are you doing at the show? Are you looking for anything specific?
Palmer: There are a few reasons I'm here. This is a good show for us. All the mobile operators of any significance in the world are here. All of the suppliers--the infrastructure providers, the OEMs, the chipset makers--are all here. Because all the suppliers are here it's a great place to be able to see the direction things are headed.
The other thing is that with our LTE leadership position, we also want to express our interest in global roaming for 4G. It really is one of the next steps in this evolution and in this leadership we have.
FierceWireless: LTE roaming is a challenge because operators globally are deploying LTE in different spectrum bands. How do you deal with LTE roaming with all this fragmentation?
Palmer: We have great roaming relationships today. Our customers enjoy roaming in more than 200 countries. We have great partners like Vodafone. But as you look toward 4G LTE, it is an open space. And our position is, why wouldn't you want to partner with the leader on LTE in the U.S.? With the deployment we have and the coverage we have, we feel like we can offer an in-bound roaming experience like no one else can.
The other point, on out-bound roaming, is that when the rest of the ecosystem is ready, whether it is Europe or Asia, we would like our customers to not just roam on 3G but enjoy the faster experience of LTE worldwide when they travel. Those roaming agreements and relationships take time. That's why it is important for us to be out there and advocate that we are ready.
If you want to be out front, and have your customers have the best experience in the U.S., then partner with us. In terms of our customers traveling, when you are ready for 4G LTE, let us know. Maybe there is something we can do ahead of time.
The ecosystem is still developing. There are a lot of countries that haven't even had their auctions yet for spectrum. I believe that there is still some room out there to be in the position with some of these countries to look at the 700 MHz band and pick a band that would make them able to partner with us and work with us in the U.S. I don't think that book is closed by any stretch of the imagination.
It's important for us to be out there and say, look at this inbound roaming on 4G and if you can do it in band class 13 for us, that's a plus.
FierceWireless: You are currently finishing up your LTE deployment in the 700 MHz band. What is your schedule for building out the AWS spectrum?
Palmer: Our LTE strategy is with 700 MHz C band. AWS [spectrum] is our growth strategy. We are deploying in the AWS band. We have that [spectrum] through our deal with the cable companies. The spectrum is almost nationwide. AWS provides a great growth strategy to handle capacity demands on 4G LTE. We will deploy 5,000 AWS sites this year and it will be a lot more next year.
As we wind up the initial build we had 90 percent of the U.S. covered last year. We will be substantially complete by mid-year and then in the second half it is all about AWS. We will go to existing sites and equip them with AWS antennas.
FierceWireless: What about AWS-equipped devices? You have to have those devices ready as well, right?
Palmer: Yes, but that is already happening. You can't have the network without compatible devices. We have already given the OEMs guidance on that strategy. The first half of this year we will see AWS-compatible devices in our lineup so when the network comes online in the second half, we will take advantage of that.
FierceWireless: Does the AWS band have roaming potential for international players?
Palmer: AWS is our growth strategy for capacity and that is a band that can become a roaming band. In some ways band 4 is an easier lift for international players. But it really depends on the country and what you have.
700 MHz C band and AWS will be the two bands that will be for roaming. We would love for other carriers to adopt one of those bands so we can take in-bound roaming traffic. In terms of out-bound traffic, the other thing that is happening is the devices are maturing. The chipsets are maturing and the amount of bands you can put in a device are increasing. That will be important for global roaming.
FierceWireless: Where do you stand with VoLTE?
Palmer: We will deploy VoLTE late this year or early next year. Eventually we will want our customers to have the same Rich Communications Services that VoLTE enables when they travel as well. That takes another level of integration. And that's why we want to start now.
FierceWireless: Would you consider an offering like joyn [a Rich Communications Service offered by MetroPCS in the U.S.]?
Palmer: I wouldn't necessarily put it that way. I will say that we are going to announce our first international roaming partner later this year. And that will be the first of many. And that will be LTE.
FierceWireless: What about LTE Advanced? You have competitors talking about how they are going to be Release 10 compatible when they launch LTE.
Palmer: LTE Advanced is a set of capabilities that improves performance on LTE. It provides greater speeds or greater capacity. It's not rocket science. It's not 5G. It's following the 4G standard. And we will be there with 4G LTE Advanced.
When we went from 3G to 4G, consumers could feel the difference. I don't think LTE Advanced is that sort of step function in performance. It's good performance. And like anything else in LTE, we will lead the way.