On an investor call earlier this morning, Verizon Wireless CFO Fran Shammo said that the carrier's buildout of its 4G LTE network will be completed by mid-2013. This is after an earlier estimate of the end of 2013, putting the company a full six months ahead of schedule.
Now, network news isn't really very exciting. And what I just wrote up there is pretty boring. But, this is important stuff. Verizon is quite literally years ahead of its competitors if this turns out to be true. AT&T doesn't plan to overlap its current 3G footprint with LTE service until the end of 2014 - a full 1.5 years behind Verizon. Sprint and T-Mobile? Yeah, don't get your hopes up. That means the second-largest wireless provider in the US is not only well over a year behind Verizon, but that it's behind Verizon with a smaller national coverage area. That's kind of insane to think about.
Verizon's 700MHz band holdings, image via PhoneScoop
Right now, Verizon's LTE network already covers 250 million people, a landmark AT&T expects to reach at the end of 2013. And as we know, Verizon will also begin its VoLTE (voice over LTE) rollout some time before the end of 2013, which will almost certainly make it America's first VoLTE network of any substantial size. This puts Verizon on the fast track to begin phasing out its CDMA equipment, and become a full-on GSM carrier.
An even more exciting implication? It's entirely possible you'll be able to start bringing your own phone to Verizon by early 2014. As part of its licensing agreement for the 700MHz Block C spectrum band, which is utilized as a major part of its LTE network, Verizon is required to allow carrier-unlocked phones on its network:
- Open applications: Consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
- Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
While Verizon does have some wiggle room on that requirement at the present time because it still operates a closed-model CDMA network, once its LTE network is capable of supporting both voice and data, it will have to allow customers to bring their own compatible devices. Verizon currently skirts these rules because it has two networks - the aforementioned CDMA network, and the new LTE network. The Block C rules only apply to "the network built using the spectrum," which by definition does not include the older, incompatible CDMA network.
By the end of 2014, it's quite likely we'll start seeing unlocked multi-band LTE phones that support both Verizon and AT&T, and that will allow you to go back and fourth between the two. Eventually, T-Mobile and Sprint will probably get lumped into this interoperability (you know, by 2034), just in time for wireless network standards to completely change again.