Forget Cable's WiMAX Dreams: Cox Trials LTE Network

Cox, the nation’s third-largest cable company, said today that it’s successfully delivered a voice call and high-definition video streaming over a fourth-generation Long Term Evolution network using some of the more than $550 million worth of spectrum it purchased during the 2006 AWS and 2008 700 MHz auctions. But while the trials held in Phoenix and San Diego may bring Cox’s 6.2 million customers closer to a quadruple-play offering of video, voice, data and mobility, they stand in stark contrast to the 4G wireless plans of Cox’s cable competitors, which all involve WiMAX.

Cox has detailed plans to deploy a 3G networking using the same CDMA technology as both Verizon and Sprint, and in December tested that service in three markets, with Sprint as its partner providing nationwide 3G coverage. Cox plans to officially launch its 3G wireless network in March in those three markets and roll out coverage to the remaining markets over time.

However, as Cox embraces LTE as its fourth-generation wireless technology of choice (using gear from Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei), its fellow cable companies have invested billion in Clearwire and its WiMAX rollout. Which puts Cox in the same camp as most of the telecommunications providers, which are also betting on LTE.

Now WiMAX and LTE are actually not that far apart, and Clearwire could theoretically upgrade its WiMAX network to one that uses LTE after it gets out from under Intel’s thumb. But that’s a big if, especially since Clearwire is racing to roll out WiMAX before the major carriers get their LTE networks out in force.

What’s odd about Cox’s LTE moves is that it’s trialing the technology relatively early (its 3G network isn’t even deployed). Plus, since Cox has an agreement with Sprint for 3G roaming, it will have to find a partner for 4G roaming that’s using LTE. Spokesman David Grabert wouldn’t speculate on whether Cox would leapfrog 3G coverage in some markets and go straight to LTE, but the news of the 4G tests raises far more questions than provides real information about Cox’s wireless plans. As to Cox’s LTE plans, we need to wait a few weeks until Stephen Bye, the company’s VP of wireless, delivers a keynote at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. As for devices, pricing and 3G plans, we’ll have to wait until the March launch of the network.

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