Verizon, Please Don’t Over-Promise on LTE

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Watching Sunday Night Football last night, I was as surprised as anyone to see the Verizon Wireless “teaser” ads for the December launch of its initial LTE markets. I lived (painfully) through the launch of the initial 2G services in the mid-‘90s, and the launch of the initial 3G services of the early ’00s as the SVP of global marketing for Qualcomm  , which provides the chips in the handsets for Verizon’s CDMA network. I’ve been involved with the planned LTE roll outs since 2008, and was eagerly awaiting the marketing and consumer communication to see what the wireless industry would promise with Long Term Evolution 4G networks.

With that as a context for November 2010, it was great to finally see a consumer pitch for LTE. So I went to Verizon’s home page, and clicked on “Learn More.” That’s when my when-will-the-industry-ever-learn alarm bells started flashing. The “What can I do with it?” section reads in part: “Stream your favorite director’s cut without annoying buffering. Or better yet, download and view full-length HD quality movies…Watch live TV in mobile high definition right on your laptop.”

Oh, Verizon, why? Why set yourself up for over-promising? Being able to launch LTE in 38 markets and cover 110 million people by the end of 2010 is an amazing technical achievement, and took a mind-boggling effort. In one swoop, Verizon’s LTE Network will match and maybe even surpass Clearwire’s WiMAX network, and Clearwire has been building its network for years. And Verizon, you’re using a technology, LTE, which has global scope, is great for mobility from day one, and has an ongoing roadmap to LTE-Advanced, whereas the Clearwire folks, for all their protestations, could be dead meat unless they switch to the TDD version of LTE to compete.

So, Verizon, why are you predicating your LTE offer on Streaming HD video over LTE? Wide area wireless of any 3G or 4G variety is not Fiber FiOS. It’s wireless spectrum; it’s ether; and it’s not conducive to massive amounts of streamed HD content. Sure, your LTE network should support great streaming in the early days, when it is unloaded, and your primary users are laptop-based with big batteries. But by the second quarter, rumors say you’ll be launching LTE handsets, with tiny batteries that will get sucked dry from the data rates, big screens and processor usage of HD streaming.

And that’s if the handsets have the radio side of things nailed, and unfortunately, as much as Verizon has tested its networks, as much as the handsets will be lab-tested, there will be issues. Network issues, handset issues, coverage issues … these are all  issues Verizon will solve to excellence over time, but issues it will be raked over the coals for in the interim thanks to the promise of using LTE for HD video streaming. Plus, this is being pitched three days after Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, discussed at Web 2.0 that consumers just aren’t all that interested in long-form video content on small screen devices.

So Verizon, stop it. Stop it now. Give us what we want. The speed of LTE on top of your robust EV-DO Rev A network. Low-latency browsers that work better thanks to LTE. Robust VoIP for our Skype mobile. Apps that download and update quickly over the air, instead of telling us to go find a Wi-Fi connection. LTE coverage at 700MHz that works in our homes and offices. Devices that actually have performance and battery life to make it through a day of the type of usage being promised. Initial launch handsets that are not mocked as battery-sucking hand-warmers like the first 2G and 3G handsets were.

Don’t promise to be a Netflix of the air and over promise tens of gigabytes a month; give us 5-10 GB per month of LTE, 3G and Wi-Fi access in a way that has consumers saying, “Wow!” And do it in a way that pushes Clearwire and Sprint to build out faster networks, T-Mobile to accelerate its HSPA+ network, and AT&T to move quicker. Do it. Do it now.

Jeff Belk is Managing Director of ICT168 Capital, LLC, investing and working with wireless firms globally. He spent almost 14 years at Qualcomm, in roles including SVP, Global Marketing, and SVP, Strategy and Market Development. He was a vocal participant in the 3G / WiMax holy wars of the mid-’00s and owns shares of Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T. And excited as he is about 4G/LTE launching, he wishes folks would learn a bit from the past.

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