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Verizon LTE rollout: CTO talks outage, AT&T/T-Mobile, Wi-Fi offload

Verizon CTO Tony Melone told reporters at TIA 2011: Inside the Network that Verizon's LTE rollout will handle whatever subscribers throw at the network.

Nothing gets the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) machine cranking like telecom executives talking about the impact of mobile data and video traffic. It's not an unfounded concern—mobile data usage is outpacing capacity on many 3G networks—but something about telecom trade shows kicks the rhetoric about regulatory roadblocks and flattening revenue into high gear.  

Verizon CTO Tony Melone, however, exuded confidence at the TIA 2011: Inside the Network conference in Dallas about the ability of Verizon's Long-Term Evolution (LTE) rollout to handle whatever subscribers throw at the network. Melone spoke about Verizon's LTE strategy during a press conference at the show.

Not too long after beginning the Verizon LTE rollout, the 4G network suffered a 24-hour outage nationwide. What else can you say about the source of the outage?

Melone: We had a software problem on an element from one of our key suppliers. Actually, there were a couple of software bugs, and in essence  what happened is there was a triggering event that should've been nothing but a little hiccup in the middle of the night. That [hiccup] would've caused one of our processes to go down, [but] we have redundancy [so] everything should've worked fine. This software bug essentially caused the system ... [to] consume all of the processing [power], and then it would go to the next redundant system [where] the same thing happened.

AT&T is a formidable competitor no matter what they do, with or without T-Mobile. They're not going to lie back and let us beat them in the marketplace anymore than we would lie back and let them beat us.

Tony Melone
CTO, Verizon

A lot of customers didn't even notice that we didn't have the network fully back to where it originally was, so we decided to keep [our temporary workaround in place] to make sure that as we loaded the new software, it didn't introduce any new problems. That's why it took about a week to [bring the network] fully back to its original state, but from a customer perspective, I think 99% of our customers probably thought it was back with our workaround solution.

Why were LTE subscribers who were affected by the outage knocked down to the 1xRTT network instead of 3G EV-DO, and why weren't standard 3G customers affected?

Melone: When we decided to go down the LTE path, we wanted to make sure that we weren't at a disadvantage coming from CDMA to LTE, versus some of our competitors who were going from HSPA or EDGE to LTE, [which are] in the same standards family. As a result of that, we worked very hard to get something in the standard called eHRPD, which essentially takes EV-DO but makes some changes to the core of EV-DO to make it work very seamlessly with LTE. That seamlessness is all about bringing it together in the core—our IMS core. That's where this software bug manifested itself.

Our 3G customers are not part of that IMS core. Our 4G customers who [would normally back] down to 3G are a part of that IMS core, so that's why there's a difference. Even though they're both on EV-DO, the core that pretty much controls authentication to let them on and off is different between the two.

Would a successful merger between AT&T and T-Mobile damage Verizon's LTE rollout strategy?

Melone: I don't think it puts us in a tough position. Quite frankly, AT&T is a formidable competitor no matter what they do, with or without T-Mobile. They're not going to lie back and let us beat them in the marketplace anymore than we would lie back and let them beat us. We have to compete with AT&T—regardless of what they do with T-Mobile—based on our strengths, based on executing our strategy. We've been communicating in the marketplace that we feel very good about our position with spectrum ... with our selection of LTE, and [with] being aggressive [on the Verizon LTE rollout].

Whether we're competing with an AT&T and a T-Mobile separate or an AT&T/T-Mobile combined, I don't think it changes the landscape at all for us. I am very confident [about Verizon's ability to remain competitive]. We can step back and talk about Sprint-Nextel, you know? These mergers in and of themselves do not make a difference. When we acquired Alltel, we knew that just acquiring Alltel ... was going to make us the biggest, but it doesn't mean it's going to make us the best and most successful. You have to integrate, you have to leverage—there [are] a lot of things you have to do, and it comes back to the underlying fundamental strategy.

Customers don't care [about mergers]. They don't care. They won't even know they merged five years after they've merged.

What role will Wi-Fi offload play in the Verizon LTE rollout?

One [use case] is the home—for a couple reasons. [We're] leveraging the Wi-Fi that's already there, [and] it's not a hostile RF environment typically in the home, so the quality of services on Wi-Fi in the home are very good. The key for us is to make sure customers don't have to think about configuring their device when they go in the home or leave the home; they don't need to think about, ’Oh, I need to turn off Wi-Fi- but [have the device] start doing these things intuitively ... so that it enhances the customer experience.

The other [use case] is the high-density, high-capacity venues—stadiums, etc. And there, it's not a function of being Wi-Fi other than the fact that we can't get enough of our own capacity in there.... Typically, you can't put enough cell coverage in there; you've consumed your spectrum and you have [a poor] experience. It wasn't the case with voice and it wasn't the case with BlackBerrys, but [cell capacity became an issue] the minute you had Android phones or iPhones and video. The biggest problem is people sending stuff up ... [because] people take pictures, and they're all trying to send them at the same time.

Other [carriers] have decided to ... use Wi-Fi more ubiquitously to cover up flaws or capacity limitations. In my mind, it is much more effective to just invest in your 3G or 4G network in those places. Do it right, as opposed to the complexity you add when you try to deal with Wi-Fi in that environment.

How are you using Voice over LTE (VoLTE) to build new services and what are you learning about its behavior on the network?

Melone: When we have a voice application on IP, you can just blend in other IP applications with it. I think the initial piece will be very rich video calling capabilities, which embed presence information [and] chat capabilities in it. So, bridging together applications and packaging them together I think is what you'll first see. Going beyond that, time will tell. The second thing it does is allows for wideband codecs and high-definition voice—you really, really see a quality difference with high-def Voice over IP, which we plan on implementing. We think customers in and of themselves—if you just put aside some of these extra features that are available with a Voice over IP platform—will have some really high fidelity voice.

In terms of usage, voice on an IP network doesn't consume a lot of bandwidth, but what you need to do is make sure you manage latency, you manage Quality of Service. It cannot tolerate delay. You have to build this application in a way with the proper Quality of Service and latency characteristics, and it's extremely challenging—or I'd say different—in an RF environment because the latency implications change dramatically in an RF environment. A voice application that works well—like a Skype in a wired environment— is not going to work well in a wireless environment without modifications, without us applying some of that Quality of Service.

What is Verizon's LTE rollout strategy for rural markets?

Where we serve rural markets today and we have a 3G infrastructure, that's a no brainer—we're going to go in there, we're going to add LTE and we're going to support LTE just like we do 3G. Where we don't have a license today, or [where] we have a license but haven't built [a network] up for all these years, we have one of two choices. If we have the rural carriers that are already there and have their own 3G network and have the infrastructure, that's where our rural LTE [partner] program comes into play. They lease our spectrum, build out [their] RF, tie it back to our core, [they] get the benefits of our core, [they] get the benefits of our roaming on our network ... and we get it out there quicker.

There's another scenario [for places] where we've never had spectrum for 3G. Case in point is Morgantown, West Virginia, [the home of the] University of West Virginia. We just never had spectrum there, so we could never build a network. Yet it's a market [in which] we want to have a presence, so we're going to build out LTE on our new spectrum in Morgantown.

[But] If we had 3G spectrum and felt it was a place that was never economical to build 3G after 15 years, we'll probably leave LTE for our rural partners [in those markets].

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.

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