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Verizon Wireless takes the road less traveled

By Marguerite Reardon
Staff Writer, CNET

Published: September 15, 2006, 11:43 AM PDT

Verizon Wireless, jointly owned by Verizon Communications and European cell phone operator Vodafone, has always been a bit of a maverick.    

When most mobile operators in the world built their networks on the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) transmission standard, Verizon went for CDMA (code division multiple access), a transmission technology that enables multiple calls to be carried over a single channel.

When other mobile carriers adopted Java for developing cell phone applications, Verizon went with Qualcomm's BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless). And now, as it looks as if mobile operators in Europe are leaning toward DVB-H to deliver streaming video on cell phones, Verizon has already committed to another technology: MediaFlo.

Verizon's risk taking seems to have paid off. The company has consistently scored high in customer satisfaction surveys, which has translated into some of the lowest churn rates among wireless carriers in the United States.

The man behind much of this success is Dick Lynch, Verizon Wireless's executive vice president and chief technical officer. In cell phone years, Lynch is what you might consider an old timer.

As CTO of Bell Atlantic Mobile back in 1995, and later as Verizon's CTO, he led several industry initiatives, including the advancement of CDMA into a commercial wireless offering and the deployment of the EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) wireless protocol for third-generation networks. Earlier this year, he became a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), one of the most prestigious distinctions in the field of electrical engineering.

CNET caught up with Lynch at the industry's recent CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment 2006 conference in Los Angles to get his take on a variety of hot topics, including mobile advertising, 4G networks and mobile TV.

Q: There's been a lot of talk recently about mobile-phone operators inserting advertising into their services. I know that Verizon Wireless has been testing mobile ads. How do you envision that the experience will be for consumers?
Lynch: From a technology standpoint, we will use SMS (for text messages) and MMS (for multimedia content) messaging to do a lot of the push advertising. There could be electronic coupons that will have a reader device, so people can redeem them. We'll be able to do some location service functions, so when you go to a new city, you'll get restaurant or hotel information. We'll just push that information to the phone when you arrive.

What if people don't want these advertisements?
Lynch: There will be an option to opt out of the process. We won't be ramming ads down people's throats. Some people may not see any advertising, and they'll be willing to pay accordingly. And people who want to see them will also pay accordingly.

Verizon has agreed to be the first mobile operator to use Qualcomm's MediaFlo mobile broadcast network to offer live television on mobile phones. Last year, there was talk from Qualcomm that the network would be ready in the fourth quarter of this year. How are things shaping up?
Lynch: Some of the cities are up and running now. And I expect we will have service in some cities available by the end of the year.

Verizon already has its V Cast mobile-video service. Why do you need MediaFlo, too?
Lynch: V Cast and MediaFlo were designed for different things. MediaFlo offers real-time streaming video services and scheduled programming. V Cast is an on-demand clip service.

One of the nice things about MediaFlo is that it provides a high-quality network for streaming video. Other carriers' mobile services that say they are streaming over an EV-DO network quite frankly don't have the proper quality of service in place.

Why did Verizon Wireless choose MediaFlo, which is a brand-new technology, instead of DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting--Handheld), which is based on existing standard technology?
Lynch: That's easy. We did a bake-off of the technologies, and MediaFlo came out the early market leader. It also has long-term characteristics that make it a better technology.

Right now, Verizon Wireless is the only operator supporting MediaFlo. And the No. 1 and No. 2 handset manufacturers in the world--Nokia and Motorola--are throwing their weight behind DVB-H. Does that concern you?
Lynch: Not really. We have multiple handset manufacturers for our MediaFlo phones in advance of our launch.

So which companies are making the handsets for you?
Lynch: We haven't announced that yet. But look where our handsets have traditionally come from. You shouldn't be surprised to see some of the same names. And I wouldn't be surprised to see one of these others you mention, that are supporting DVB-H, also making handsets for MediaFlo.

Verizon Wireless has been rolling out its 3G network based on EV-DO for more than a year. And now you're upgrading the network to EV-DO Revision A. How does the landscape change, once you have Revision A deployed?
Lynch: We have three networks right now. There's the 1XRTT network, which we use for voice and SMS services. We'll have no problem serving customers on that for years to come.   

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