A CDMA carrier, Verizon is moving to the next phase with LTE – an evolution in the GSM family – and a whole new ball game. But this CTO is up to the task – and having fun at the same time.
You could say that Tony Melone, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Verizon Wireless, is on the hot seat. Big time.
He’s the guy in charge of executing on Verizon’s 4G plan, rolling out LTE in 25 to 30 commercial markets later this year – and making sure not to tarnish the carrier’s claims of being the “nation’s most reliable network.” Granted, Verizon Wireless has its 3G network to fall back on, so it’s not as if everything rides on LTE. But pretty much the entire world is watching.
A little stressful? Sure. But Melone says he’d rather have this kind of stress than trying to survive with old technology. “There’s pressure but excitement about building a new network,” he says, similar to the level of energy and excitement people had during the move from analog to digital. “When you look at the explosion around us in the marketplace, with devices and applications … you can’t help but feel exited and optimistic.”
Backhaul is often fingered as one of the biggest issues when it comes to meeting the demands for data. A year ago, backhaul was probably Melone’s biggest area of concern, but now, “we have great momentum,” he says, with fiber in place where feasible and the scalability that fiber brings. By definition when Verizon goes to LTE, backhaul will be Ethernet, which offers a more efficient way to carry bits from one point to another.
EARLY TESTS LOOK GOOD
Based on reports of early tests in the Boston and Seattle markets, the LTE deployment is going well. Verizon Communications Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dick Lynch told journalists at Mobile World Congress in February that he expected the two trial markets to pass testing within 60 days and then the carrier could alert vendors to the commercial deployment phase.
That next phase of the LTE preparations will involve taking the commercial hardware and software and “beating it to death” in a real environment and tying it in with everything else, such as billing systems, revenue assurance and friendly user trials. It’s a lot to do, but Melone takes it in stride, noting that Verizon’s suppliers are pushing the envelope. It’s not a “one company” initiative, he says.
No one knows that better than Verizon’s LTE vendors, which include Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Starent Networks (now part of Cisco Systems). Alcatel-Lucent was the only vendor chosen as a supplier in three areas: IMS, enhanced packet core and radio access network (RAN).
Ken Wirth, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s 4G/LTE Solutions, has worked with Melone for several years. “With the buildout of Verizon’s commercial LTE network, Tony has taken on a huge endeavor, particularly since this involves the rollout of an entirely new wireless technology as part of a complete end-to-end solution,” Wirth says. “When Verizon became the first service provider to announce their commercial LTE plans, it was without a doubt a groundbreaking step in the industry, and essentially set the pace for LTE.
“Tony has set a very high bar in terms of what is expected for Verizon’s LTE vendors. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished with Verizon so far, and we look forward to helping them build the next-generation mobile broadband foundation that will support new and innovative services and applications.”
Last month, the GSMA announced the addition of Verizon Wireless and two other CDMA operators, China Telecom and KDDI, to its membership. Qualcomm, a longtime supplier to Verizon Wireless, also joined the GSMA, the organization that a few years ago would not have exactly expected the CDMA camp to join its fold and vice versa.
Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of the Americas and India for Qualcomm, says she’s always looked forward to partnering with Melone on projects. “Tony should be credited with successfully leading the deployment of EVDO nationwide – and is one of the main reasons that Verizon’s data network is able to meet the growing demands of today’s data-hungry consumers,” she says.
“Tony is able to clearly envision the future of mobile data services, be it smartphones or smart grids. I have full confidence that Tony and his world-class team will be successful with Verizon’s deployment of LTE and future efforts and look forward to working with them in the future.”
DEVICES CATCHING UP
In the standards world, one of the key missions of 4G has been to more closely tie the readiness of the networks with the availability of devices, something previous network deployments have struggled to get timed just right. Melone says Verizon has been “very pleased” with the progress in devices and chips.
Its LTE Evolution Center was designed to help spur the ecosystem and that has happened. The carrier will initially launch with USB-type dongles. Early on, engineers figured those would carry into 2011, but so many OEMs are interested in providing smartphones that they will probably arrive a lot sooner, like early in 2011. “We’re much further along on the potential number of devices than we were six months or a year ago,” Melone says.
Out of the gate, voice services will be provided on the 3G networks and LTE will principally be for data, video and multimedia. Over time, as the footprint grows, voice will evolve toward LTE and VoIP. To solve the voice component of LTE, which is a standard designed for data, Verizon Wireless and at least 39 other operators are looking at IMS as part of the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) initiative.
With so much industry attention focused on carriers’ ability to meet projected data demands, is Melone worried? “It’s a nice problem to have,” he says, noting that fiber-based backhaul will take care of a lot of the traffic. After backhaul, the next area of concern is the radio link, and Verizon’s spectrum at 700 MHz, on top of its AWS spectrum, puts it in a great position, he says. “LTE is the most spectrally efficient [technology] that’s out there,” he says. “The combination puts us in a great position to meet that growth.”