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Wireless 4G plans take wing at Dallas conference
07:41 AM CST on Thursday, November 5, 2009
By VICTOR GODINEZ / The Dallas Morning News
The wireless industry gathered Wednesday in Dallas to talk about the next generation of high-speed mobile connectivity and promote a new industry standard.
But the spirit of cooperation went only so far.
Some of the disagreements among the giants couldn't help but leak out, even as telecom experts predicted a magical era a few years down the road with 50 billion mobile devices hooked into a global wireless Web.
The LTE Americas conference, which continues through the rest of this week, focuses on a specific technology being adopted by many wireless companies to build the fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless network.
Much of the 4G technology is being designed or tested in the Dallas area.
LTE is short for long-term evolution and theoretically brings maximum wireless download speeds of 100 megabits per second.
In other words, your cellphone could soon have a faster Internet connection than the broadband modem plugged into your computer at home.
And 4G won't just connect phones, but also cameras, utility meters, medical monitors, earthquake sensors and other machines.
Patrik Ringqvist, vice president of strategic development at telecom equipment maker Ericsson AB, said there could be 50 billion wireless devices in use by 2020, with many of them needing the ultra-fast speeds possible on 4G.
Dallas-based AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Richardson-based MetroPCS Wireless Inc. and others made their case Wednesday on the opening day of the show for why they're making such an aggressive push into 4G.
"It's really a foregone conclusion that 4G will be the game-changer we all hope it can be," said Verizon Wireless chief technical officer Anthony Melone.
"Verizon Wireless has a lot of skin in this game. We're going to be very aggressive in deploying this technology."
Melone said his company will have 4G coverage in 25 to 30 major markets covering more than 100 million people in the U.S. by the end of next year.
Slinging a little mud
And he couldn't help but get a dig in at rival AT&T, which is moving a bit slower into 4G and focusing initially on upgrading its 3G network.
"Why invest in older technology when something new is right there, ready to be had?" Melone said during his speech.
Kris Rinne, senior vice president of architecture and planning at AT&T, took the podium next.
She said AT&T will begin 4G LTE trials next year but won't push for broader deployment until 2011.
In the meantime, she said, boosting the speed and signal strength of AT&T's 3G network makes sense because 4G phones probably won't be available until 2011.
Most of the 4G devices next year will be laptop cards, not phones.
"That's why we believe our timing is right," she said.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, AT&T says Verizon Wireless is presenting misleading ads about the geographic scope of AT&T's wireless network.
Still, there was some agreement reached Wednesday, as AT&T, Verizon and several other wireless companies announced a plan to support a single, standard technology called One Voice for making regular voice calls over 4G.
But while conference participants boasted and tussled over their 4G plans, one company was notably absent.
Sprint Nextel Corp. already has a 4G network up and running in some parts of the country, including Dallas as of this week.
But Sprint's network is built on a different technology called WiMax.
"Sprint continues to lead the charge in rolling out wireless 4G in cities across America, and the momentum continues to build," Todd Rowley, vice president of Sprint 4G, said in a statement Monday.
"Our aggressive expansion of Sprint 4G will include many new devices and capabilities that create increased performance and productivity while enhancing personal lifestyles on the go."
But, again, there are not yet any Sprint 4G phones, just a plug-in laptop adapter targeted mostly to business users.
It's also not clear that the tiny number of companies supporting WiMax can withstand the much larger bundle of LTE supporters.
Some companies are positioning themselves to support whichever technology ultimately wins.
Altair Semiconductor Inc., an Israeli company founded in 2005 by former Texas Instruments Inc. executives, was showing some of its LTE technology at the conference.
But Altair also makes WiMax chips, said Mark Rice, vice president and general manager of the company's Plano office.
He said the Dallas area's longtime telecom expertise ensures that the region will be home for much of the research, development and deployment around 4G.
At the gates
But Rice said that even with the billions of dollars that companies like Verizon and AT&T are poised to spend on 4G, start-ups like Altair still face a tough environment until 4G phones and other devices start shipping in large numbers.
He said Altair closed its latest round of funding just before the economy soured. That topic invariably pops up when meeting with potential customers.
"The first question out of their mouth – or it should be – is, 'How's your funding? Are you going to make it?' "
Altair is generating revenue and should survive until sales accelerate, Rice said.
Despite the challenge of being stretched from Israel to Plano, it's critical to be in the Dallas area.
"The business always flows where the expertise is, and that's why Dallas is such a great market," Rice said.