INTERVIEW-Verizon to test high-speed LTE network this summer
* Verizon Wireless plans LTE trial in about six markets
* Sees simultaneous commercial launch in up to 30 markets
By Sinead Carew
LAS VEGAS, March 23 (Reuters) - Verizon Wireless plans to test an advanced, high-speed wireless network in six markets this summer and hopes to launch the service in up to 30 markets this year, Chief Technology Officer Tony Melone said.
The venture of Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) aims to be one of the world's first mobile operators to build a high-speed network based on a new technology known as Long Term Evolution (LTE).
"When we're ready with the 25 to 30 markets, we'll most likely launch in one fell swoop," Melone told Reuters ahead of the CTIA annual wireless trade show in Las Vegas.
Verizon Wireless plans for the network to provide coverage for a potential 100 million people by year-end, though some analysts have said the target is unrealistic.
Melone is confident the operator will launch the network on schedule, even though it is still conducting laboratory tests of equipment from suppliers Ericsson (ERICb.ST) and Alcatel-Lucent (ALUA.PA).
Verizon Wireless will start this summer with "friendly user trials" in about half a dozen markets to make sure the service works, he said.
Smaller rival Clearwire Corp (CLWR.O) is launching its high-speed wireless service one market at at time, but Melone said he wants to turn on the Verizon Wireless service all at once in as many places as possible.
He said the first consumer devices supporting the network will be wireless data cards for computer Internet access. The company expects the first LTE handsets will be available around the middle of 2011.
In order to have the network ready, Verizon Wireless is adding some hardware to its wireless broadcast towers and beefing up its backhaul wired connections to those towers.
While Melone said the network build would not significantly increase Verizon's capital spending, he noted the company has spent $9 billion buying airwaves it expects to use for the network.
Verizon Wireless, the U.S. industry leader, is building its LTE network well ahead of its biggest rival, AT&T Inc (T.N), a move that some analysts say could give it an advantage over the exclusive provider for Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPhone.
AT&T argues that it does not need to move as quickly in building a new network because it still has a lot of room to upgrade the technology it currently uses.
T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE), uses a technology similar to AT&T's. Sprint Nextel (S.N), the No. 3 U.S. mobile service and a 56 percent-owner of Clearwire, is offering high-speed services using Clearwire's network.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by John Wallace)
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