Thursday, August 20, 2009

LTE Goes Live, For Testing, And A Surprise

In the US, the four major wireless providers are all on 3G.  Sprint "sprinted" ahead with WiMax in about 10 markets now and is continuing to race against time as Verizon Wireless tries to meet its self-imposed 2010 deadline to bring LTE (Long Term Evolution), its own 4G network, to its customers.

So, it was fantastic to hear that VW has successfully tested the LTE network in Seattle and Boston.  Each site has 10 LTE bases online.  The following tests were conducted:
  • clocked in at 60Mbps
  • based on 3GPP Release 8 standard
  • Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson for base stations
  • LG and Samsung offered trial devices, Sony-Ericsson, Motorola, and Qualcomm will eventually join device testing
  • Nokia and Starent Networks offered network equipment
  • Web browsing
  • data calls
  • streaming video
  • file uploads and downloads
  • and a big OMG to a successful VOIP call
VOIP.  That's Voice-over-IP.  Why is this signficant?  Right now, there is a lot of anger and frustration among mobile warriors who have had the wireless providers keep them from using their smartphones and mobile devices like the iPhone using Skype to make calls over their 3G data plan.

The reason is largely because the wireless providers, who also like to be known as benevolent gatekeepers, rely on voice plans for a large portion of their revenues and profits.  Services like Skype and Google Voice will disrupt the wireless market in ways that the wireless providers have no way of cooping.  

In fact, there was great uproar from the pundits and tech bloggers when ATT requested Apple reject Google's Google Voice app (and had existing GV apps pulled from the iTunes app store).  Why did ATT make such an unreasonable request?  First, it is only unreasonable to wireless consumers like you and me but to ATT, it makes a lot of sense.  Second, no one know what direction Google Voice will innovate.  And uncertain future is not something ATT and the other providers like.  Also, in the near term, GV offers user a telephone number and SMS service, texting, for free.  Texting is a multibillion dollar revenue stream for gatekeepers.  So, you get why ATT had Apple reject the official GV app for the iPhone.  

So, VW testing VOIP so early in its testing and making a point to mention it to the media seems very significant.  The exact quote from the press release is "Significantly, Verizon Wireless has successfully made data calls using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to enable voice transmissions over the LTE 4G network".  This is not a case, as I had initially suspected, of the blogworld's irrational exuberance in reporting or reading into something that was not there.

Does this mean that VW is keeping its word about operating an open network?  Does this mean that they are working to incoporate VOIP into its services?  Perhaps but it bears watching.  VW can offer VOIP exclusively and lock out competing services like GV and Skype.  For now, Onxo is content that VW is looking forward instead of backward and hope that an "open" network truly means "open".

Some interesting facts about this development and its WiMax competition:
  • VW hopes to have LTE running on the 700Mhz spectrum they won in last year's action in 30 markets.
  • WiMax will be available in Seattle by the end of 2009.  Seattle is currently one of two markets where VW tested the LTE network.
  • Clearwire, a venture between tech giants like Sprint, Intel, and Google, will have WiMax available to 30 million potential mobile warriors and 120 million (80 markets) by the end of 2010.  
  • VW will have the whole country covered by 2013.  
  • WiMax is available for $20 a month for a home service.  $30 A month for mobile access.
Clearly, this development is exciting.  And more clearly, VW has a lot of work to do while Sprint and Clearwire is using WiMax to take the lead in the next generation of wireless access race.  

Note:  We're a bit late in reporting on this as there have been quite a bit of other wireless news that went on.  But in waiting, we were able to get the bit about the VOIP test.  We'll know in time whether this was a significant development beyond a simple test.

Another Note:  Skype is offered on multiple networks but its VOIP service has been crippled to work only on Wi-Fi networks or not available at all.  Also in the interest of fairness, ATT is saying that it was Apple's decision to reject the GV app.  However, most folks including us believe ATT had a hand in it.  It was at ATT's request that Skype's VOIP function and Slingplayer's streaming work only through Wi-Fi access.  

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