In the past, AT&T Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega said its LTE handsets will perform better than Verizon’s because of the way Verizon deployed its LTE network. His theory sounded reasonable, but I was skeptical as I know how CEO’s like to talk up their technology and put down their competitors. According to an interesting article on LTE from ExtremeTech’s Neal Gompa, de la Vega’s claims may be more than idle words.
Gompa’s article is primarily about LTE, but he talks about Verizon’s LTE deployment and some of the problems the carrier will encounter because it uses CDMA as its 3G technology. One problem is battery life. Verizon’s LTE phones consume power at an alarming rate because the handset has two internal radios and must connect simultaneously to LTE for data and to CDMA for voice calling and text messages. This dual-more operation drains a battery at a rate faster than LTE or EV-DO does alone.
Gompa also points out that Verizon’s link between EV-DO and LTE is fragile. This tenuous connection forces a Verizon LTE handset to jump back and forth between LTE and EV-DO; this frequent switching degrades performance and further drains the battery. This fragile link also means the network is less reliable. We’ve seen this instability lately as Verizon has suffered through three widespread outages this month alone.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem only Verizon will face. The difficulty of bridging a CDMA network with an LTE network will also affect other CDMA carriers like Sprint, US Cellular and MetroPCS. Sprint hasn’t flicked the LTE switch yet, but it is in the process of transitioning from WiMAX to LTE. The carrier expects to sell its first LTE devices in mid-2012 and will make a big push with LTE in 2013.
US Cellular is a smaller carrier and is preparing to sell LTE devices in early 2012. It, too, should blanket most of its customers with LTE by 2013. MetroPCS was the first carrier in the US to sell an LTE phone, and it’s slowly rolling out LTE on its small, but expanding network. It will be interesting to see if these other CDMA carriers will experience the same growing pains as Verizon.
AT&T, however, is less likely to deal with this instability because the link between LTE and UMTS is comparatively robust. Handsets fallback to UMTS much more easily and more reliably than they do to EV-DO. As a result, handset battery life may be better on AT&T and the network may suffer less frequent outages. The carrier is still in the early stages of rolling out their LTE network, and thus far, everything is progressing smoothly. We will have to wait and see how AT&T’s network holds up as demand for its LTE service increases and its network is put to the test.