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MWC: Verizon to start shifting to LTE-only phones in 2013

CTO Tony Melone says VZW’s mobile broadband networks should be almost as big as its CDMA network allowing it to start phasing out 2G voice service in favor of VoIP over LTE

BARCELONA – There is a reason why Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) didn’t mention anything about hand off between long-term evolution (LTE) and its CDMA network when it announced its first successful voice-over-LTE calls last week. Verizon doesn’t plan to support the packet-to-circuit conversion that would allow customers to move between LTE and CDMA 1X coverage without dropping their phone calls. Rather Verizon will keep VoIP-initiated calls on the LTE network and circuit-switched calls on the 2G network—never the twain shall meet.

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The reason, explained Tony Melone, is simple: when its commercial VoIP service goes live, Verizon Wireless plans to have an extensive LTE footprint so the majority of its customers will always be under its all-IP umbrella. Customers making CDMA calls will thus stay on the 1X network. Customers making an LTE VoIP call will see their connections broken if they wander out of LTE coverage into 2G, but Melone expects that to be a rare case—rare enough that it doesn’t justify the cost and headache of implementing the expensive circuit-to-packet gateway infrastructure to enable such hand-off capabilities.

“To allow that kind of capability requires an incredible amount of complexity,” Melone said. “By the time you figure out how to make it work well, we figure we’d have enough of a footprint in LTE that it wouldn’t matter anymore.”
Melone, in fact, said that by 2013 Verizon will have an LTE network nearly as ubiquitous as its CDMA footprint, allowing it to offer its first phones without a CDMA chip since Verizon’s birth. As it moves more of its voice traffic to LTE, Verizon can start shutting down parts of its CDMA network to clear spectrum for future mobile brand service, Melone said. Melone stressed that it would be a long time before VZW would consider shutting down its CDMA network completely, but it could start clearing out unused CDMA 1X channels.

“We’ll be in a position to start selling phones without CDMA in them in 2013,” Melone said. “CDMA won’t go away, and a certain subset of our devices would still have CDMA ” But at certain point it doesn’t make sense to keep maintaining a robust CDMA network if the handsets and the LTE network are perfectly capable of offering enhanced voice services more efficiently, Melone said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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