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$199 Unsubsidized Verizon LTE Tablet Changes the Game

Once you have deployed LTE at 700 MHz on the same cell towers as the old technologies at 800, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 etc. MHz, there is no strong need to maintain backwards compatibility for those higher frequencies, for coverage reasons. Why? Because there are no longer any "gaps" between towers reachable only by the older, lower frequencies.

This has huge implications for Qualcomm, and for the cost of building devices such as smartphones and tablets.

What can you do now, with 700 MHz LTE, that you couldn't do before? You can launch products with so-called "single-mode LTE," which is an LTE chip without any backwards compatibility with the older 3G technologies such as EV-DO and HSPA. It may even operate at a single frequency, e.g., 700 MHz, in some cases.

This means you don't have to buy that LTE chip from today's de facto monopolist, Qualcomm. I don't know exactly how much money you could save, but my conversations with industry experts suggest that a far simpler LTE chip from a hungry second-tier vendor could reduce the price of a tablet or smartphone by more than $50 in some instances. Obviously the actual cost (revenue to Qualcomm) of just the LTE chip is less than $50.

Consider this: Apple charges $130 extra for LTE in its iPad tablets.

The biggest 700 MHz LTE beneficiary of this is Verizon because its backwards compatibility is tied more closely to Qualcomm than is AT&T. For evidence, see Verizon's CDMA, 1xRTT and EVDO legacy networks, all tied 100% to Qualcomm. Every single Verizon LTE device in the market today is Qualcomm, not coincidentally.

For this reason, it seems evident that the next move by Verizon is to launch an LTE tablet based on such a single-mode LTE 700 MHz chip this year. Would such a device be based on Android, iOS, Windows or BlackBerry?

My guess is Android. Why? Because speed of development in Android is leaps and bounds ahead of the other operating systems. Time-to-market simply trumps the other operating systems nine times out of 10. New technologies are typically introduced in Android first, then spread to iOS, Microsoft and BlackBerry as they catch up.

Today you can buy an unsubsidized, quality seven-inch Android tablet with a cellular data modem for $299, in the form of the Asus Nexus 7. This is the price leader for a true tablet, i.e., not a closed-OS book-reader. It's got HSPA, not LTE, but that may not matter much especially as T-Mobile's HSPA network is either 21 or 42 meg, depending on the market.
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