4G: The Battle Intensifies

Updated from 12:02 p.m. EST

The two major groups involved with updating this country's cell-phone services to the next level are stepping up their efforts to build out their networks and make sure they work correctly as soon as they're up and running.

One group that favors the LTE standard is busy making sure that voice calls will be handled as well as data over their next-generation network. There are reports that a new working group, the VoLGA (Voice over LTE via Generic Access) will be ironing out any problems with the delivery of voice calls over LTE networks.

LTE (long-term evolution) currently has the backing of industry giants Verizon ( VZ), Alcatel-Lucent ( ALA), Ericsson ( ERIC), Huawei, LG, Motorola ( MOTO), Nortel ( NT), Samsung and ZTE. Verizon says they will be rolling out their LTE network this year. And TSC's Scott Moritz is reporting that Nokia ( NOK) is quietly working with Verizon at creating a LTE/4G phone for the new network.

That's interesting, because Nokia is also one of the companies that have been big supporters of LTE's challenger, WiMax. As a matter of fact, Nokia has already released (and subsequently "retired") a WiMax-capable version of its slick mini-tablet device.

A Nokia spokesperson made sure that I understood that the company is very interested in both technologies:

"Our position on WiMax and LTE has not changed. We stated in January 2009 at CES that Nokia will continue to follow the WiMax network developments and confirmed the business-as-usual decision to end-of-life the WiMax edition tablet, and clearly stated that does not apply to other WiMax business development efforts that Nokia is involved in.

"Further, it is well documented and publicly known that Verizon intends to deploy a LTE network throughout the USA during next five years and that Nokia has certainly endorsed their decision. While we have not entered into any exclusive agreement for 4G touch screen device development as is being reported, we will continue to follow and pursue developments as a normal course of business. Beyond that, we have nothing new to add or update on.

"With regard to product timing, we are committed and focused on standardization and technology development to enable the start of commercial LTE deployment in 2010. We have not made any specific commitments or announcements for exact timing for commercial LTE device availability -- as we've stated before, this will occur around the time of commercial LTE network deployments."

Unlike LTE, WiMax is up and running in at least two U.S. cities: Baltimore and Portland, Ore. We were in Baltimore for Sprint's ( S) big rollout of WiMax last fall and went back a few weeks later to test Sprint's first 4G/USB modem. We were very impressed with the speeds we obtained.

Sprint's New 4G Speed Demon
Sprint is now has a partner in these WiMax networks, and Clearwire ( CLWR) has just revealed that it plans to spend $1.9 billion this year to build out its "Clear" branded 4G solution nationwide.

During Thursday's earnings call, Clearwire CEO Benjamin Worth announced that his company was on track to roll out Clear in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas/Fort Worth, Seattle, Honolulu and Charlotte, N.C. He added that New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Houston and San Francisco will be activated in 2010. By that time, the company claims it could potentially provide coverage to up to 120 million users.

There was one proviso, though. The company also stated that it is keeping a close eye on the economy and may still speed-up or slow down itsr 4G build-out.

WiMax backers include Comcast ( CMCSA), Intel ( INTC), Time Warner ( TWX), Google ( GOOG) and Bright House Networks.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.

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