Is Verizon waiting to spend on LTE?

In listening to a replay of Tuesday’s Verizon/Verizon Wireless year-end earnings conference call, I did hear some more optimism from company execs about launching “commercial” deployments of Long Term Evolution services by the second half of 2010 — not as aggressive as once thought, but still well ahead of stated LTE plans from other big national carriers.

But sifting through the financial data, I wasn’t able to quickly find any evidence that Verizon is starting to spend on infrastructure to make LTE services a reality, at least in any widespread fashion. If you wade through the financial-figures PDF you find that in 2008 Verizon spent roughly the same on domestic wireless capex as it did in 2007 — $6.510 billion in 2008, vs. $6.503 billion in 2007 — which says to me that the heavy spending for LTE isn’t happening yet.

Now granted big cellular providers like Verizon may have some economies of scale (like towers and equipment facilities) already in place, but LTE is not going to be a simple software upgrade to the company’s current 3G system. It is going to require new network infrastructure gear for the IP-based backbone and new antennas for starters, stuff that is likely to show as a capex delta over what appears to be the yearly spending norm for the company’s existing networks.

Since the spending isn’t broken down in any granular fashion it’s hard to tell if LTE spending is already occurring, but the sameness of the numbers from 2007 to 2008 does seem to show that the extra billions that are probably necessary for any big LTE deployment aren’t being spent yet. Something to watch for (and ask about) in future earnings calls!

For the record, Verizon COO Denny Strigl did say Tuesday that Verizon was still planning for “market trials” of LTE late in 2009, with some “commercial availability” sometime “in the first half” of 2010. Unfortunately, none of the analysts on the call asked any more pointed questions, such as whether or not Verizon has enough spectrum to offer appreciably faster wireless data services, or when LTE devices might be available since the standard isn’t quite baked yet.

(These are just some questions you might want to ask and answer before claiming that Verizon’s slideware LTE network is keeping the fire raging under Clearwire’s WiMax plans.) Again, maybe these are questions we’ll hear more answers to as Verizon gets closer to its current LTE deployment plans.

One good point for deployers of all stripes was Verizon’s continued growth in wireless data revenues, even in the face of a down down down economy. Looks like wireless data is up at AT&T as well. So maybe it’s true, that the wireless phone service will be the last thing broadband consumers will give up. We will take the financial rays of sunshine where we can, these days.

About Paul Kapustka

Paul Kapustka is a longtime journalist who has spent more than two decades covering the information technology business, Paul most recently has been focusing on mobility and how it has changed the computing and collaborative landscape. His newest project outside Mobile Enterprise 360 is a research and analysis operation called WiFi Journal. He is also editor in chief of Mobile Sports Report, which covers the intersection of mobile technology and sports business. Paul is also the founder of Sidecut Reports, a research firm that covered the emergence of 4G technology in the cellular marketplace.

Comments

  1. Let’s all hope that Verizon will spend on LTE as planned the economy needs carrier’s to spend.

    Professional Services companies like mine welcome such news as the markets shrink we begin to slash pricing to get the work.

    I guess that is one advantage to the carrier’s.