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November 29, 2007

Dual wireless standards will likely continue in U.S.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:34 AM

Verizon Wireless is making headlines for the second time this week.

On Tuesday, I wrote about how it was going to open up its networks to unlocked cellphones and third-party developers.

Today, Verizon Wireless said it is testing out a fourth-generation technology known as LTE, or long-term evolution.

The Wall Street Journal noted that it was interesting Verizon was making this 4G choice because LTE evolves from GSM technology, the most-used standard worldwide. That differs from Verizon's CDMA technology, which is also used by Sprint Nextel in the U.S. but doesn't have a big global following.

The switch makes sense since Verizon Wireless is partly owned by Vodafone, which uses the GSM standard. As the WSJ noted, this will allow Verizon customers to roam more easily internationally. (Today, if its customers go to Europe, they have to get a global phone that has both CDMA and GSM chips.)

But I haven't seen a lot of discussion about what Verizon's decision to test LTE says about WiMax. I think it is a little bit of a black eye for this wireless broadband technology, which gained momentum in the past year. It can't get a break recently.

Sprint Nextel, which is rolling out WiMax, calls WiMax its 4G technology. A partnership with Clearwire to jointly develop a nationwide network dissolved with the departure of Sprint's CEO.

If Sprint Nextel and Clearwire build a nationwide network based on WiMax, and Verizon chooses LTE, it looks like we'll continue to see dual wireless standards in the U.S.

In addition, we are still waiting to hear what AT&T and T-Mobile USA will decide, and there's also the upcoming spectrum auction. It will provide a fresh chunk of airwaves that could throw a new player -- Google -- into the mix. Whoever wins that auction will also have a lot of choices to make.

To confuse the matters even more, Qualcomm is developing a third option based on the technology it acquired from Flarion.

I suppose this is the beauty of capitalism, where the market gets to decide. I'd argue it's worked out fairly well in the U.S. with competition pushing each other to roll out better and better technology. But it's also hard on the consumer, who may or may not have to get new equipment each time he or she changes carriers or travels internationally.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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