Verizon's XLTE promises 'faster peak speeds' with double the bandwidth

New service in 250 cities juggles AWS band with 700 MHz band

Verizon Wireless launched XLTE network coverage in more than 250 U.S. cities on Monday, promising its customers twice the 4G LTE bandwidth and "faster peak speeds" in those areas.

Verizon created the XLTE name to describe a network capable of juggling a wireless connection between AWS (advanced wireless services) in the 1700 MHz band and 700 MHz bands. What's new is that Verizon added the ability to use the AWS band as well as the older 700 MHz band, and in doing so, Verizon implied, doubled the bandwidth.

As for the promise of "faster peak speeds," Verizon hasn't provided details on what that means, although presumably it is the ability to meet promised LTE speeds that top out at 12Mbps, even when a nearby cell tower is crowded with users, such as at a baseball game. A large crowd of smartphone users can hammer nearby cell towers with transmissions, lowering speeds on everyone's phones. It's much the same physics as if everyone in a small town flushed the toilet at the same time, lowering water pressure in every household.

When asked about what speeds to expect with XLTE, Verizon spokeswoman Debra Lewis told Computerworld, "We haven't changed our promised LTE speeds of 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps on the download and 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps on the upload."

XLTE adds network capacity by doubling the bandwidth, "so it's about getting people on the network and staying on the network, having a reliable experience and being able to do what they want when they want," Lewis said.

Verizon posted a blog to explain XLTE along with a flashy new TV ad describing the service.

Verizon also posted a list of the 250 cities receiving the service.

In addition, the Verizon Web site lists 27 phones, tablets and wireless devices that can function with XLTE, including the iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Droid Mini from Motorola. Verizon also made the point that older phones using 700 MHz only should see capacity benefits from XLTE-ready device traffic that is moving over to the AWS spectrum.

As for the question of what peak speeds are possible with XLTE or what Verizon is really up to with its announcement, the carrier quickly took some sharp criticism from a few wireless bloggers and journalists who have followed Verizon for years.

"I hate it when wireless carriers invent fake standards for marketing purposes," wrote PC Magazine's Sascha Segan. "Verizon XLTE is just LTE on some new wireless spectrum Verizon bought a few years ago."

Still, Segan noted that recent nationwide tests of all the major networks conducted by driving cars around the country have found 80 Mbps downlink speeds on the new Verizon network more than once.

Other carriers have used new names to describe alterations in existing technologies. Most recently, Sprint in October announced its Spark service for devices that can work over three wireless bands from the former Nextel network and two from Sprint's Clearwire purchase.

The advent of XLTE raises the question of what Verizon primarily intends to focus on in marketing its network services in a super-competitive wireless market. For years, Verizon has promoted the broadest nationwide coverage for LTE, and now with XLTE has focused primarily on reliability ("faster peak speeds") in 250 cities.

Broad coverage and reliable connections are intertwined, Verizon's Lewis said. "I think our nationwide coverage and having more than half our LTE markets deployed with XLTE is a pretty great thing for customers."

What will ultimately matter with XLTE and with similar network improvements from competitors is whether customers notice much of a difference using it. Surveys show that customers most value widespread coverage and competitive pricing for wireless services, but network speed and reliability are also high priorities.

In any given city or beneath any single cell tower, wireless network conditions can vary widely and will depend on the number of users and the geography and buildings that can interrupt a signal.

Given that physical reality, it's unclear how much impact XLTE can have on attracting new Verizon customers. Verizon is more likely fighting to keep intact its network brand and strong reputation against fierce competition in the ultimate hope of keeping its customers happy. To get new customers, Verizon knows there can't be any significant network problems. With network demands constantly growing with video and other content being sapped up by users, Verizon -- and all the carriers -- can't afford to stand still, either with network technology or marketing.

Marketing, such as Verizon's for XLTE, "is always looking for competitive advantage," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "It's like the New Coke. At the end of the day, consumers might be drawn to marketing programs, but will only be impressed if the programs deliver true benefits. So call XLTE what you want, if coverage and performance aren't there, it won't matter."

This article, Verizon's XLTE: Big new marketing for double the LTE bandwidth, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about wireless carriers in Computerworld's Wireless Carriers Topic Center.

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