Verizon Wireless will offer smartphones that run only on its 4G LTE network by the end of next year, according to the carrier's network chief.
A 4G-only device could potentially be cheaper and sleeker because it doesn't need multiple cellular radios that current smartphones require. But that can't happen until Verizon gets its voice service to run on the 4G network, which currently handles only data traffic.
But with Verizon essentially wrapping up its 4G LTE rollout, the carrier already has an eye on voice over LTE. Verizon is hoping to offer what's known as VoLTE next year, Verizon Chief Network Officer Nicki Palmer said during a conference call with reporters.
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Verizon had teased the prospect of the service launching later this year, but Palmer said the carrier was working to ensure that the service is reliable. She added that it was working to ensure that the right VoLTE-compatible phones are available when the service launches.
"We will get this right," she said. "Our brand is built on reliability."
Unlike the market-by-market rollout of LTE, the VoLTE launch will happen all at once, allowing people to take advantage of better quality calls and additional data services that can be paired with voice, she said.
"We will want to go big with this," Palmer said. "We're working aggressively now."
With VoLTE, Verizon customers will finally be able to talk and browse the Web at the same time, an advantage AT&T has long touted over its rival.
Palmer noted that the costs of LTE radios are coming down, leading to more-affordable phones. She declined to talk about specific pricing.
She also added that Verizon already offers an LTE-only device, the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which packs a 4G connection into a digital point-and-shoot camera.
Verizon is also hoping that the migration to its 4G LTE network will allow it to take the (eventual) unused spectrum in the 3G network and repurpose it for 4G, Palmer said, though she noted that was a longer-term option. Verizon's 4G network already handles 57 percent of its total data and is available to 99 percent of its 3G footprint.
To further combat network congestion, Verizon will also deploy small cells, or small boxes that work as tiny cell towers. Palmer said the carrier is waiting for LTE-only versions of the small cells, and plans to deploy them toward the end of the year. She stressed that the small cells weren't a panacea for potential traffic woes, but just one part of the network strategy.
"We view small cells as one tool in the toolbox in order to address capacity demands from customers," she said.
Palmer also weighed in on LTE Advanced, the next iteration of LTE, days after South Korea's SK Telecom launched the world's first such network alongside the LTE Advanced-enabled Samsung Galaxy S4. She said Verizon would be a leader in LTE Advanced, but noted it was more a collection of enhancements, features, and standards.
Verizon, she said, would deploy these enhancements when they are needed. She added there was still a lot of "hype" around LTE Advanced, but noted the carrier would be aggressive at looking at the upgrade.