Verzion to launch LTE-based high-speed wireless network

Verizon Wireless will launch 60Mbps Long Term Evolution “pre-commercial” cellular service, the first in the United States, in two cities late in 2009. Commercial service officially will go live the following year, expanding to 25 to 30 markets.

It’s planned as a data service initially for laptop users, based on usage. No pricing plans were announced. And the 60Mbps is the peak rate, based on Verizon’s LTE trials, with its partner Vodafone, in Minneapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and northern New Jersey and several European locations. Verizon CTO Richard Lynch wouldn’t speculate on what data rates users would actually encounter.

“We won’t know what the real average speed is until we have a network deployed, so come talk to me at the end of December,” he said, speaking at Mobile World Congress this week, where Verizon confirmed details of its LTE roll-out.

The network will use gear from Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson, and the 700MHz spectrum Verizon won at a federal spectrum auction. Likely to be one of the very first LTE deployments, the new Verizon network will also directly compete with the WiMAX 4G data network being built by Clearwire, with support from Sprint.

Previously, Lynch had said that Verizon would roll-out femtocells, sort of mini-cellular basestations, for businesses and homes to improve LTE signal penetration and coverage indoors.

Laptop users likely will be using plug-in cards or dongles for some time. Lynch said he expects the first LTE smartphones in mid-2011, the first of a wave of consumer devices of all kinds with embedded cellular broadband interfaces.

Lynch made it clear that the scale of the global LTE deployment, widely embraced by chipmakers and carriers as the main step from 3G to 4G wireless broadband, will spur low-cost embedded wireless interfaces that can be incorporated into a wide array of consumer and industrial equipment.

“Where there is demand there is volume, and, of course, with volume comes price reductions,” said Lynch, who predicted that prices will be affordable for consumer electronics manufacturers in two or three years.

Lynch sees users eventually having a half-dozen devices with LTE interfaces, many involved in machine-to-machine communications, but using “only a fraction of what an existing data user currently consumes. So as a result I think we’ll see some new pricing models that allow us to aggregate users multiple devices, and price accordingly,” he said.

As part of that development, Verizon also announced a LTE R&D center in Waltham, Mass., which will help Verizon technology partners work out details to bring LTE products and services to market.

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