Verizon Wireless readies LTE gear for businesses

Videoconferencing for field techs, others shows promise

CHICAGO -- Verizon Wireless and its partners will release new LTE devices for businesses and consumers in the first quarter of 2011 to take advantage of faster wireless speeds, including portable two-way videoconferencing gear that can be used by repairmen in the field to shorten repair times, a Verizon official said today.

Other gear under development includes in-store wireless kiosks that will match a shopper in a home repair store via videoconference with an expert, such as a retired plumber. Videoconferencing is especially dependent on faster bandwidth, and LTE is expected to provide average downlink speeds of 5Mbit/sec. to 12Mbit/sec., about 10 times what is available today over 3G networks, including Verizon's CDMA network.

Verizon is also working on in-car information and entertainment applications that work over LTE, as well as chip modules that can be used for wirelessly monitoring performance of washing machines and refrigerators, said Mike Lanman, Verizon Wireless president of government and enterprise markets.

Many of the products will be ready early in 2011, after Verizon launches LTE in 38 cities before the end of the year, he said.

Lanman said in an interview that Verizon queried 400 CIOs in the last 18 months, including 23 in the past two weeks, about their business needs with faster LTE wireless. Their insights have helped drive many of the applications and services that Verizon will deploy, he said.

"I can't believe how many CIOS are lit up by [wireless] videoconferencing," Lanman said. "We will have 4G devices with two-way video on them early next year."

Even Clearwire, a seller of faster 4G wireless over WiMax, which competes with LTE, has seen the value of faster wireless for videoconferencing. "We've been talking about [wireless] videoconferencing for 30 years, but it's actually happening," said Michael Sievert, Clearwire's chief commercial officer in comments in a presentation at 4G World.

Citing the example of the field service technicians using videoconferencing over LTE, he said CIOs have seen the value of reduced downtime when a technician arrives to work on a complex piece of equipment and needs to consult with a more senior repairman. A wireless videoconferencing link would shorten that consultation to minutes, instead of hours or days.

Sievert said the advantage of having a technician "go completely virtual" would allow a company to get rid of a branch office, meaning a technician would check in wirelessly or get video training on new LTE equipment "where they are virtually anywhere."

Videoconferencing over LTE will not only help field technicians but will also help shoppers at kiosks in stores and patients who need to consult with medical specialists, Lanman said.

At least six of the CIOs that Verizon has met with are planning ways to reduce office space for sales personnel who move from city to city and can benefit from faster 4G wireless. Sievert said those CIOs are seeing if they can reduce office space from one office for each worker to one office for three workers who alternate uses. Wireless can help by making a laptop docking station or desktop phone in an office unnecessary.

Lanman conceded that many of the capabilities in 4G applications could be provided via the slower 3G CDMA network, but he said Verizon is planning for full value from 4G in three to five years, when costs of components for 4G will be mass produced and will drop to one-third the cost of those required by the 3G network.

Those cost savings help Verizon, but also mean more value for end users, both businesses and consumers, he said. "CIOs are fired up about network intelligence ... with innovation around low-cost [LTE] chipsets," he said. "They want the simplest possible solutions for presence and location-based services and other network-based services."

He said Verizon has provided SDKs (software development kits) to business customers to help them build enterprise applications for LTE. "Our customer CIOs are building apps and finding [it] easy to build to multiple [wireless] platforms, which is top of mind for them because they can't stand to build to multiple formats."

One way that Verizon is able to help CIOs is that the Verizon's LTE spectrum will run over the 700 MHz band, which has better propagation characteristics to ensure better in-building wireless coverage, Lanman said. Also, because LTE will be used by 160 carriers globally, the devices carried by workers will work abroad to deliver the same enterprise apps.

Lanman also conceded that many different spectrum bands will be in use globally for LTE, meaning the early LTE chipsets inside devices will need multiple-spectrum radios.

Verizon has opened an innovation center for testing LTE applications and devices in Waltham, Mass., he said, and will soon open another in San Francisco. Third parties can use the facilities to test applications, and two car models are being fitted with LTE modules for various applications, he said. Verizon is also seeing its partners and third-party developers work on chipsets for in-home appliance monitoring, as well as hub-type "collector" devices that will gather maintenance and other information from a range of home appliances and lighting and heating.

Lanman appeared at a keynote at 4G World here along with a representative of Alcatel Lucent, which is providing much of the LTE infrastructure gear that Verizon Wireless is deploying. Alcatel Lucent, based in Paris, on Wednesday released a survey of 950 enterprise customers in Germany, France and the U.K., which found that more than 80% of large-sized companies reported they would change service providers in order to get LTE. More than 75% of the largest companies said they were interested in 4G access for their workers.

Verizon Wireless has committed to launch LTE in these markets by year's end: Akron, Ohio, Athens, Ga., Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Houston, Jacksonville, Fla., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Calif., Oklahoma City, Orlando, Fla., Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle/Tacoma, St. Louis, Mo., Tampa, Washington D.C., West Lafayette, Ind.,West Palm Beach, Fla.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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