Qualcomm May Slow Verizon's LTE Plans

Verizon has been aggressively pushing its fourth generation wireless network plans, which would bring Long Term Evolution, or LTE, to 20-35 markets by the end of 2010. But in the interconnected world of telecommunications, the desires of a vendor can be waylaid if all the pieces of the puzzle aren’t there in time. And for Verizon, Qualcomm’s pieces may be showing up late. Its LTE chips for data cards won’t be generally available until the second half of next year, and chips for handsets might not be available until well into 2011, according to an industry analyst.

That means Verizon won’t make its plan to have LTE handsets in 2011, and it will likely struggle to launch its network in 2010 with many devices capable of using the speedy new network. According to a report issued by Deutsche Bank this morning:

“We found a slide in their booth nailing down Qualcomm’s LTE roadmap. They will sample their first LTE chips in the middle of this year. This should make them ready to ship in commercial product by roughly the second half of next year. Their first two chips are the MDM 9200 and MDM 9600. The MDM moniker means they are suitable for data cards. The 9200 will have LTE and HSPA, the 9600 will be tri-mode with LTE, HSPA and EV-DO Rev. B. Qualcomm expects to sample its first chip for LTE handsets in the middle of next year.”

Qualcomm’s intellectual property is in all of Verizon’s devices (handsets or data cards), because Qualcomm controls the IP around CDMA networks. So, until Qualcomm gets an LTE/CMDA combo chip out, Verizon would either have to source the LTE radio chips from a different vendor or wait to provide devices that can travel from 4G to 3G networks. With a limited deployment at first, an LTE-only device would have limited appeal.

Once the chips are out, device makers need to build them into phones, a process than has taken up to 18 months (although, with PC makers getting involved, it may take less time). There’s also Verizon’s rigorous testing of devices for its network, which could slow handsets down even more. So while I’m still hoping that Verizon’s LTE network is up and running in certain places in 2010, I’m not going to hold out for LTE handsets in the 2011 time frame. Data cards will come sooner, but may still lag the network buildout by a few months.

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