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Vodafone CEO Wants Wireless Industry To Standardize On LTE

The industry could innovate and deliver better services faster if everyone used one 4G standard, or at least settled on technologies that work well together, said industry leaders at CTIA.

Arun Sarin, chief executive of telecom heavyweight Vodafone Group, called on the wireless industry Wednesday to adopt fourth-generation LTE technology as the high-speed standard of the future.

During his keynote speech at the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas, Sarin said the wireless industry would be able to move faster in delivering an Internet experience similar to what exists on a PC today, if it rallied around one broadband standard. Sarin listed the mobile Internet, the evolutionary shift of voice and data services to IP networks, as the industry's economic future.

"We need to look at LTE as an all-encompassing standard," Sarin said.

Sarin's comments are controversial because others in the industry believe WiMax is the better 4G technology. Supporters of the latter include Sprint Nextel, which is testing the high-speed service in Chicago and the Baltimore-Washington area. Intel is also a major supporter of WiMax.

In a keynote on Tuesday, Sprint president and CEO Dan Hesse said that unlike 4G alternatives, "WiMax is not slide-ware. It works now."

Sarin said Vodafone is heavily investing in HSDPA, a third-generation technology considered a stepping stone to the faster 4G networks of the future. Verizon Wireless in the United States, in which U.K.-based Vodafone holds a 45% stake, is investing in EV-DO as its 3G technology of choice.

Sarin said Vodafone and Verizon will eventually migrate to LTE, which optimistic proponents believe could make its way to the market around 2010. While not expecting WiMax to disappear, Sarin advocates that the technology be folded into LTE.

In a panel discussion following Sarin's keynote, CEOs from infrastructure vendors Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, and Nortel agreed that the industry could innovate and deliver better services faster, if everyone used one 4G standard, or at least settled on technologies that work well together.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, said, "It is true that in a perfect world, it's better that we compete and gather all our resources around one standard." Svanberg went on to say that he expected 85% of the world's carriers to eventually adopt LTE. "That will dominate the world going forward."

Patricia Russo, CEO of Alcatel Lucent, and Mike Zafirovski, CEO of Nortel, agreed that it was likely carriers would favor LTE. However, they expected LTE and WiMax to coexist. "I think we're going to see a coexistence for some time," Russo said.

In an education session on Tuesday at CTIA, analysts for ABI Research said LTE, which is an evolution of existing cellular networks, is likely lagging in development behind WiMax, which is already being deployed in South Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other regions. "The question is not if it will happen, but the scale in which it will be rolled out," Clint Wheelock, chief research officer for ABI, said of WiMax. By 2013, WiMax could account for 5% to 10% of the wireless market, which is likely to be a mixture of 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies.

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