Since before I did health care wireless data at AT&T Wireless in the naughties, there were rumors that Verizon would eventually abandon CDMA for a wireless telephony standard that was compatible with their joint venture partner Vodaphone's GSM-based network in Europe. Well it's finally happening.
Currently AT&T and T-Mobile (along with Europe) are running a GSM-based network that includes GPRS, EDGE, and UMTS (which includes HSPDA). Confused yet? Each acronym in the preceding alphabet soup provides faster wireless data speeds, increasing from GPRS to HSPDA. Sprint and Verizon have used CDMA-based networks, with the fastest data service called EV-DO.
Partisans from the two GSM/CDMA camps argue vociferously as to which technology provides the best quality and speed. The performance difference between the two is close enough not to matter to us mere mortals.
Many of these different designations in network performance represent software updates or minor hardware upgrades. Some jumps to the next level of OTA (that's “over the air”) performance require a forklift upgrade – i.e., swapping out cell tower radio hardware for totally new equipment. Forklift upgrades are kept to a minimum, because each time a carrier has to replace all their cell tower hardware they have an opportunity to switch vendors.
Vodaphone was recently making noises about pulling out of their half of the U.S. Verizon Wireless joint venture – which would have required Verizon to pony up billions to buy them out or risk being saddled by an unknown new partner. Instead, Verizon decided to placate Vodaphone and agree to merge technologies in the near term – 3 or 4 years. I'm not sure if this jump is coincident to a forklift upgrade after EV-DO, or increased pressure from Vodaphone – perhaps a reader can enlighten us.
The new technology is called LTE and will provide 100 mb/sec download speeds. With the adoption of this new standard, wireless carriers will be running pure TCP/IP networks over the wireless link for the first time.
What does this mean for health care? If you're planning to embed a cellular radio into a medical device, in the next 3 or 4 years you will probably want to use an LTE radio. In addition to supporting both European and U.S. market, the LTE radio will run on 3 carriers networks, increasing the chance your end user will find a carrier that provides decent coverage.
Don't worry about Qualcomm in all this. They hold patents a-plenty in the LTE sphere (which is based on W-CDMA). This will actually improve Qualcomm's value proposition. Before with the cellular market divided between Sprint/Verizon and Cingular/T-Mobile there just wasn't enough critical mass on the carrier side to drive adoption. Now with the two biggest carriers on the same technology base, Healthcare Unbound mobile phone based applications could really take off.
Although Verizon's announcement put a fly in the ointment of Qualcomm's MVNO project, LifeComm.