If a handset maker isn’t willing to embed LTE into its smartphones or tablets, then don’t even bother calling Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod). That’s essentially what Verizon Associate Director of Device Marketing Keith Lampron told Cnet (s cbs) at CES. Verizon will no longer accept any smart device without LTE, which would mean the BlackBerry Curve 9730 (s rimm) 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(s aapl) 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 (s 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(s USM) – 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.