Blog Post

Why won’t Verizon and AT&T compete on even ground with LTE?

Sascha Segan of PC Magazine confirms one of my biggest fears: Although both AT&T and Verizon own 700 MHz spectrum for next-generation LTE networks, different frequencies will be used by the companies. This comes directly from a statement Segan received from Verizon: (s vz)

Verizon Wireless confirmed today that its LTE phones will not “be compatible on other LTE networks in the U.S.” because “the phones will be on different frequencies,” according to Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney.

Even though LTE will eventually support voice and data, consumers won’t be able to seamlessly switch carriers while keeping their phones. That means the U.S. will be no closer to having true mobile broadband competition before the 700 MHz spectrum was auctioned off for 4G networks back in January 2008. The goal of one national network technology using the same spectrum isn’t likely to be met, primarily due to how Verizon (s vz) and AT&T (s t) won’t commit to truly competing head-to-head.

Yes, the carriers will still compete for business, but won’t be doing so with the exact same network frequencies that could allow for simple network switching. That’s different from areas such as Europe, where consumers can buy a handset and then choose service from a number of providers, even changing providers on a regular basis as prices fluctuate.

True competition in this market isn’t defined by offering exclusive handset models, 2-year contracts and slightly different pricing plans. Instead, the two largest network operators should put their money where their mouth is by trying to offer the best prices and network services to attract and retain, not lock-in, mobile customers on an even ground.

11 Responses to “Why won’t Verizon and AT&T compete on even ground with LTE?”

  1. just keep in mind everyone, any time you vote Republican you are explicitly allowing for this kind of behavior too take place.

    Liberals won’t even try to do the right thing on an issue like this knowing that Repub’s will just shoot it down at any opportunity.

    same reason the US will never have broadband regulated as an essential utility & also opened up for competition. it’s amazing to watch how far behind the US is falling while much more progressive nations change at a rapid pace.

  2. This is a sad state of affairs in the US. How can you call it competition when you don’t have a level playing field? Verizon won’t even compete on price. Just check their mobile hotspot plans for the 4G Mifi versus Sprint.

    I say blame the FCC. This has nothing to do with running a business, as I’ve heard time and time before. Wireless has become a 21st century public utility. Except instead of more stringent regulation from the government, it’s the corporate greed of the carriers that continues to dictate.

    But if the sheep don’t complain, the sheep get the government they deserve.

  3. Sadly this is why we have (seem to need) regulations. Unbridled GREED unchecked causes freedom to be lost. “United we stand, divided we fall” still holds true! Why would companies do the “Fair and Righteously Honorable” practices when they can “manipulate” the market (citizens) for their own self-interest, e.g. “King George Lives On” so IF only we could hear the shot around the world…(tongue in cheek)…will the battle be won in the name “Of the people and for the people”

  4. Assuming LTE phones will be multi-band phones just like most (if not all) current CDMA and GSM phones, LTE will be provided on more total spectrum. I think that’s a good thing assuming my Verizon phone will roam on AT&T’s network.

  5. darren

    What’s to prevent multi-band capable phones from being built? We have 5 band world phones for 3G, is there any reason to believe that we won’t wind up with 2/3/4 band LTE phones as well? Heck, this isn’t even really a different, ‘band’, it’s just different blocks of 700Mhz spectrum.

    I completely believe that the carriers may force some of their first-gen phones out the door without the extended band support, but I can’t see that lasting forever.

    This would be especially easy to do in this case since the antenna won’t need to be tuned for one or the other, they are close enough (there’s even a little overlap) that it would only need one antenna devoted to 700Mhz.

    • There’s nothing to prevent it, but there’s no incentive to do so either. Look at the current situation for 3G, which has been around for years: Nokia is about the only handset maker to include penta-band radios that support both AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s current 3G frequencies; and that’s only recently. I’m not seeing that from Samsung, LG, HTC, Apple or others. What’s the reason for them to include it when they can build phones for different frequencies and sell hardware each time a customer wants to switch carriers in the U.S.?

      • Darren

        You don’t get it – this is just a headfake and you bought it. Apple/htc/nok etc won’t have to build anything special to support both carriers – its the same frakking 700mhz band, but on different channels.

        The real story here is that VZ just made it clear they plan to carrier-lock their phones, but they are trying to blame it on spectrum. A carrier lock is the only thing that will keep you from moving between VZ and AT&T. Hopefully the mfrs will offer an unlocked version of their lte phones like apple does with the iPhone 4, and we won’t have to rely on the carriers.

      • It isn’t as simple as just adding another radio.

        The laws of physics come into play here as well due to the fact you are sending out signals not just receiving them. Right now our mastery of engineering is such that the antenna being used to send the signal has to have physical properties dictated by the frequencies involved.

        Back in the dark ages we used one frequency and could mechanically tune the system to get the best power efficiency for transmission. This allows things like 50,000 watt clear channel AM broadcasters.

        These days we are using broad swaths of frequencies described as “channels” and we’re working hard to keep efficiency high across that “channel” as we transmit on the various frequencies bundled up inside it.

        Right now all we can do is either add another physical antenna or just accept worse battery life when using frequencies that are inefficient for the antenna at hand.

        As phones get smaller the good places inside a phone to put antennas get fewer and fewer.

        You can also add to this that right now the engineers are busy just figuring out how to make the new 700MHz channels as power efficient as possible. One of the common knocks for the Verizon Thunderbolt is that it has poor battery life when operating in LTE mode.

        Set the way back dial for 3G and several generations of those phones had poor performance.

        As techniques for efficiently transmitting to the channels developed battery life got better and patent portfolios were built. Fast forward to today and examine all the coverage over the battles being bitterly fought in courts and the ITC over patent infringement for 3G technologies (and the hot bidding for the Nortel patents).

        And if the above wasn’t enough fun, physics has more in the bag. This one though we humans fundamentally understand because we can see it in action. Cellphones work using lower frequencies than those we see as light. But the same properties about mixing colors and reflecting light off surfaces affecting our percept of the resulting light all come into play with cellphones. They are essentially flashlights that shine low frequency light that is picked up by cell towers. As the light bounces around and even passes through things it is affected. You look through a tinted window and the color of the light seems to change? With cellphones the light passes through a lot more things than tinted windows that affect how it is perceived at the cell towers. But as with light, each set of frequencies used is affected differently. Bounce red off yellow get one thing. Bounce blue off yellow get something else right?

        As the cellphone and cell tower makers struggle to make efficient communication at each of the sets of frequencies in use we move closer to a day when they can make penta band phones: so long as the phone makers have economical access to the patents involved. Queue above struggle in the courts and ITC.

        Those court battles all seem so dry and uninteresting (and often petty) but they are the struggles that will control what devices you have in your hands in the coming years and what those devices will be capable of doing.

        If you want to be able to switch between Verizon, at&t and t-mobile the place to focus your energy is on the court battles.

  6. Jack C

    This is outrageous. Breaking up LTE spectrum like this is not only totally contrary to the public good, awful for innovation, and bad for rural populations, but it also highlights just how disingenuous carrier claims that they don’t have enough spectrum are.

  7. Kevin, what can I do to honestly complain? The government doesn’t seem to think this is anti-consumer enough to warrant regulation.

    Is this like a write your congressman thing? Is this a write to the FCC thing?