WALTHAM, Mass.--Verizon Wireless is looking to help tech companies large and small leverage its 4G LTE network and it's dedicating resources to make it happen.
On Tuesday the company officially opened its Verizon Innovation Center here in the suburbs of Boston. The facility offers 135,000 square feet of laboratory space over two buildings. Here more than 300 engineers and developers are on hand to work with large companies such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and Cisco Systems, as well as tiny start-ups. Already more than 30 products have been developed as part of the innovation center.
Verizon is also building an innovation center in San Francisco, which will open later this year. The San Francisco innovation center will be focused on developing mobile applications for the 4G LTE network.
Verizon is building the new facilities to serve as incubators for good ideas and new technologies, said David Small, chief technology officer for Verizon Wireless.
"We wanted to open our doors to companies of all sizes to assist entrepreneurs in developing new innovative products that use the 4G LTE network," he said in an interview. "We felt it was important to make sure we could help provide resources to smaller companies too."
There is a process for getting access to the Verizon Innovation Center facilities, but Small said the main criteria is to have a good idea and a solid notion of how to make it work. From there, Verizon can help these companies bring their ideas to market.
Small said not every product that's created and tested at the Verizon Innovation Center will make it to market. But the company hopes the facility and the on-hand Verizon engineers can serve as guides to help as many of those ideas come to fruition as possible.
For small start-ups it's an invaluable opportunity to work with Verizon and its engineers in a simulated real-world LTE network to get their products up and running and out the door for commercial sale.
"We wouldn't have been able to develop our product without Verizon's help," said Robert Klingle, CEO of Nomad Innovations, which has built LiveEdge.tv, a tool for gathering live TV news. The product, which bolts onto TV cameras, offers live video over Verizon's 4G LTE network, instead of using satellite or microwave connections that require large trucks filled with equipment.
Klingle said Verizon approached his company last summer, because it was looking for technology that could leverage the 4G network for live video feeds. The company had been working with another wireless provider via a partnership with Ericsson. But when that didn't work out, Klingle's team came to work with Verizon.
The product was developed in less than six months with the help of a dedicated staff of Verizon engineers, something Klingle said the tiny Louisville-based company wouldn't have been able to afford without the help of Verizon.
"The 600 hours of engineering time spent developing the product would have cost us over a $1 million," he said. "We never would have been able to recruit that kind of talent or pay for it."
Verizon's venture capital arm has since invested in the small start-up. Last month, Nomad Innovations announced that Verizon Ventures had participated in its latest funding round, but it didn't disclose the amount Verizon had contributed.
In total, Verizon boasts that more than 30 products have already been developed in the new center. In addition to the LiveEdge.TV product, Verizon also highlighted the work of two other start-ups.
TouchTunes Interactive Networks has been working with the Innovation Center for more than a year to provide 4G LTE wireless connectivity to its Digital Jukeboxes, which are already in more than 48,000 bars and restaurants across the country.
Verizon also showed off technology from a start-up called VGo, which has been working with engineers at the Verizon innovation center to provide robotic telepresence over Verizon's 4G LTE network. The small robot with a screen can help establish someone's presence when they're unable to be there in person. Using the VGo robot and technologies, individuals can see, hear, interact with, and independently move around any remote site. Tim Root, the company's CTO and founder, said the telepresence robots can be used by health care providers or homebound students.
The VGo robots could work over Wi-Fi , but Verizon's 4G LTE network allows the portable robots to be used in more places.
"We didn't have the necessary expertise in the different radio technologies," Root said during a panel discussion at the press event Tuesday. "But we didn't need to, because that is what Verizon offered us."
The Verizon Innovation Center isn't entirely unique. Earlier this year AT&T launched the first of three facilities that will bring partners together to develop products and applications for AT&T's wireless network. The AT&T Foundry innovation center was opened in February in Plano, Texas. The company is also opening permanent facilities in Palo Alto, Calif., and Ra'anana, Israel. Developers who work in the AT&T Foundry innovation centers get access to AT&T network facilities and test beds, as well as engineers and project coaches.
AT&T and Verizon are competing aggressively for wireless subscribers, and they're each using LTE to build their next-generation networks. Verizon is currently far ahead of AT&T in terms of footprint. It was the world's first major operator to launch a widescale LTE network. The company has already deployed the service in 77 metropolitan markets, and it plans to reach 175 markets by the end of 2011.
Meanwhile, AT&T is planning to launch its LTE network in five cities this summer, and it will deploy service in another 15 markets by the end of the year. The company announced its first two LTE devices on Tuesday.
The fact that the two biggest carriers in the U.S. are spending money to build and operate these innovation centers is a clear sign that they view partners and even smaller start-ups that build products and services for their networks as a key component to their success.
"No one has a monopoly on good ideas," Dan Mead, CEO of Verizon Wireless, said at the event Tuesday. "And we intend to encourage all new ideas."