How Verizon Wireless May Kill Hope for LTE Interoperability
The technology wars were supposed to be over. The global adoption of LTE as a common 4G technology was going to heal the rift between the CDMA and GSM camps and give U.S. consumers more freedom to switch between carriers, as well as the ability to choose from a set of common devices that could work on any network. Well, forget it. Verizon Wireless’s planned sale of its extra LTE spectrum pretty much quashes that dream.
Instead of coalescing around mutually exclusive technologies, U.S. carriers are now coalescing around mutually exclusive spectrum bands. The result is the same: A Verizon LTE phone won’t work on an AT&T (T) LTE network and vice-versa. This was always going to be a problem, but Verizon’s proposed fire sale of 700 MHz licenses would essentially codify that rift. If Verizon dumps all of its lower 700 MHz spectrum, it won’t share a single similar license with any of the country’s other operators, effectively creating its own private band within the 700 MHz airwaves.
That means device makers such as Apple (AAPL) will have to design phones that work on Verizon’s network and no one else’s. In that case, dozens of carriers that own spectral real estate in the same band won’t be able to roam onto Verizon’s network. LTE was supposed to change everything, but the industry remains as Balkanized as ever.
The 700 MHz band is a truly messed-up patch of the electromagnetic spectrum. It has been sliced and diced into every sort of license and configuration possible. In 2008, Verizon bid on and won at auction what was essentially a nationwide 22 MHz license called the “upper C block,” over which it is today deploying the first phase of its LTE network.
The C block is a pretty choice chunk of airwaves, though a weird one. Its duplex is reversed, which means the frequencies normally used for the downlink are used for the uplink and vice-versa. That makes C block a special case that requires special hardware. To build devices that work universally across the 700 MHz band, a device maker would be forced to cram filters and other elements into the device to prevent the disparate parts of the band from interfering with one another, a costly proposition. Read More