Verizon wraps up LTE rollout; plans all-VoIP phone launch for late 2014

Verizon Wireless’s(s vz)(s vod) LTE juggernaut has hit its 500th market, leading the carrier to declare on Thursday its rollout is “substantially complete.” Verizon’s 4G network now covers 298 million people and covers 95 percent of the U.S. population.
With that kind of coverage under its belt, Verizon can now start weighing the gradual retirement of its CDMA networks, and in late 2014 it plans to drive that fact home by launching its first all-VoIP LTE-only phone, Verizon Wireless Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer said at press briefing.
Verizon has been talking about a CDMA-less phone for some time, though it’s been gradually pushing back its launch timing. Verizon first has to bring online its long-planned voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service, which would allow it to shift its call traffic from the circuit-switched 2G network to its all-IP LTE network.
Verizon hasn’t exactly been in a hurry to bring VoLTE online for a variety of reasons. First, its CDMA network is already quite efficient when it comes to making phone calls, and it has plenty of CDMA capacity. Second, unlike other carriers, Verizon’s LTE-CDMA combo doesn’t support a feature called single radio voice call continuity, which would hand over a VoLTE call to the 2G network if a customer walked out of 4G network range.
For Verizon, launching VoLTE is dependent on matching its LTE coverage to its 2G coverage, so customers would rarely, if ever, be forced off the 4G network. With that task almost complete, Verizon now seems to be taking VoLTE seriously, and there are many advantages for the carrier to do so.
VoLTE won’t just support voice calls. Palmer said Verizon’s service would include video-casting and other real-time multimedia communications features. As an IP service, VoLTE could be integrated into other applications and could reproduce many of the enhanced messaging and video features in over-the-top applications.
Verizon is already testing VoLTE in trials and plans to launch the service commercially in 2014, at first using traditional CDMA-LTE combo phones. Most of Verizon’s data traffic (57 percent) has already migrated to its LTE network. CDMA traffic has hit its peak and has started declining, Palmer said. Eventually Verizon will shut down a portion of its 3G CDMA data networks, and as voice traffic moves to VoLTE it can do the same with its 2G networks. That PCS spectrum can then be re-farmed for LTE or other purposes, Palmer said.
Verizon 500 markets infographic
LTE network No. 1 may be complete, but Verizon has another 4G network in the works. This year it will start turning on LTE cell sites in its newly acquired Advanced Wireless Services spectrum this year. Verizon also plans on launching its first LTE small cells to add capacity in highly trafficked areas.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the technology single radio voice call continuity (SRVCC) as circuit-switched fallback (CSFB)