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Summary:

According to a Verizon executive, Big Red will no longer accept smartphones and tablets unless they have LTE connectivity. The revelation shows just how aggressive Verizon is pushing its 4G strategy and almost certainly indicates the next iPhone will have LTE.

verizon-4g-lte

If a handset maker isn’t willing to embed LTE into its smartphones or tablets, then don’t even bother calling Verizon Wireless. That’s essentially what Verizon Associate Director of Device Marketing Keith Lampron told Cnet at CES. Verizon will no longer accept any smart device without LTE, which would mean the BlackBerry Curve 9730 unveiled Monday is the last non-push-to-talk smartphone Verizon plans to unleash solely on its 3G network. If there was ever an indirect confirmation that the iPhone 5 will have LTE, then this is it.

Push-to-talk is the exception, since it’s designed specifically to access Verizon’s 3G network, though the carrier will eventually extend that capability to 4G as well. Only a small subset of devices fall into that category. Meanwhile, the rest of device makers have been put on notice, which is something no large carrier has done to date. Sprint’s WiMAX network has been running for years, but the majority of its smartphones are still 3G-only.

No operator would dare make such a pronouncement – with the exception of U.S. Cellular – unless they had a pretty good notion of what Apple’s iPhone plans were for the year. If for some reason the iPhone 5 doesn’t have LTE, then Verizon must either suffer some embarrassment and sell the device, or stick to its guns and ban the single biggest-selling smartphone from its networks. I doubt Verizon will have to make such a decision. It’s much more privy to Apple’s roadmap than we are.

It’s interesting to see just how aggressive Verizon is being with LTE, and it stands in sharp contrast to Sprint’s less-than-enthusiastic follow-through on WiMAX. Verizon clearly wants to move as much of its data traffic onto the LTE network as quickly as possible. Not only do customers get much faster speeds over LTE, the network provides a much more efficient way for Verizon to deliver that data. Furthermore, requiring all future smartphones to be LTE-ready would hasten Verizon’s transition from circuit-switched calling to Voice over IP and the sunsetting of its 3G network. Verizon CTO Tony Melone has said the CDMA network is going nowhere, but its 3G EV-DO component is living on borrowed time. Verizon plans to start offering its first LTE-only phones in 2013, converging all its services onto a single network.

Luckily, Verizon will have little difficulty securing the LTE devices it wants. At CES, LTE emerged as a major theme with the major device vendors announcing a slew of new smartphones and tablets with LTE on board. Verizon’s new demands, however, put enormous pressure on RIM, which has yet to release a single LTE BlackBerry device.

  1. I sure hope they have some magical cure for the abysmal battery life, then.

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    1. Hi CW. Well the just announced one for the Razr: A fatter battery. The problem is that LTE uses MIMO, meaning its sending two separate parallel signals. Basically it’s like running two cellphones off of one battery. The short answer is that LTE phones need to be fatter so there’s more room for battery. The long answer is that battery tech needs to catch up with wireless tech.

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  2. @Kevin,

    Will the battery drain issue be resolved when Verizon (and the remaining carriers deploying LTE) deploys voice over LTE?

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    1. Hi Curtis, My guess is that the power drain itself will be much worse since using LTE for the voice channel will use up much more power than making a call over the CDMA 1X network. That said, vendors will be on their second or third batch of LTE devices by then and will have probably figured out ways to reduce power drain, or they’ll just start making phones with bigger batteries.

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  3. A calculated risk, if they win they win big. If they lose. they lose moderate. Go, Verizon.

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  4. John Harrington, Jr. Friday, January 13, 2012

    Anyone else see this? http://bit.ly/wQQ0Uw

    A Morgan Stanley analyst reports the next iPhone will have a quad-mode chip from Qualcomm “that would allow for 3G and LTE functionality across all ‘network flavors'”

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Friday, January 13, 2012

      Hi John, It’s definitely possible the iPhone 5 is a quad mode. Some of Verizon’s new LTE phones are quad mode as well for roaming purposes. But Apple can’t do a single SKU for the iPhone. It simply can’t capture all of the bands being used globally for LTE without producing a device that has horrible network performance.

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