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LTE Handset Development Gets Boost

Verizon, AT&T and over three dozen other wireless companies have signed on to the Voice over LTE initiative, expected to speed deployment of Long Term Evolution phones.

Adoption of the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) initiative by the GSM Association this week will allow handset manufacturers to forge ahead quickly to provide handsets for Long Term Evolution networks.

The first LTE subscriber devices are expected to be data cards and dongles for Verizon Wireless' LTE network, which is scheduled to debut in 25 to 30 U.S. markets later this year. Handsets are expected to follow, probably next year.

Approval of VoLTE, formerly known as One Voice, by more than 40 companies at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain this week clears the way for rapid development and deployment of handsets. "There will be handsets available earlier than we initially thought," said Vivek Badrinath, an executive VP at France Telecom/Orange, who is chairman of the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance. "This view is supported by other major players."

Verizon Wireless is expected to be the first major U.S. mobile carrier to offer LTE; AT&T has also committed to LTE, but will likely begin deploying its network in 2011. Other firms signing on to the VoLTE initiative include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson.

"As mobile operators begin to deploy LTE, it is essential their networks are aligned around one, common standard for voice and messaging services," said Alex Sinclair, GSMA's chief technology and strategy officer.

Based on IMS (IP multimedia subsystem), VoLTE supports voice call service features like call waiting, call hold, and call barring. It is scalable and can serve large subscriber bases.

Verizon chief technology officer Dick Lynch also told a gathering at the WMC that LTE handsets appear to be ahead of schedule. "We're in Phase 4 of trial work," he said, noting that Verizon's trial networks in Boston and Seattle should finish their testing phase in two months. "We will then be ready to go to our vendors and say we are ready to move into commercial deployment in a big way. We have seen more interest in development of chipsets and devices than we originally thought -- we underestimated it."

Another executive, Ericsson CTO Hakan Eriksson, concurred. "Handsets are coming faster than we anticipated," he said. Ericsson is supplying infrastructure for many LTE networks, including Verizon's.

The GSMA said international roaming specs for LTE calling are expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.

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