Telefonica (NYSE:TEF) has become the latest global operator to commit to long-term evolution trials and like Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD), Vodafone (NYSE:VOD) and China Mobile (NYSE:CHL), it’s casting a wide net in search of suppliers.
The six vendors rolling out lab-and field-trial equipment for Telefonica pairs three western vendors with three eastern vendors. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia Siemens Networks (NYSE:NOK, NYSE:SI) will represent Europe while Japanese vendor NEC and Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE will fill out the remaining three slots. Vodafone and Verizon took a decidedly more western approach to their vendor trials, selecting the same three European vendors along with Motorola (NYSE:MOT) and Nortel Networks, whose LTE assets are about to be acquired by Ericsson. The only Asian vendor in the bunch was Huawei.Verizon Wireless eventually selected Ericsson and Alcatel to build its 4G radio network, while Vodafone has not made any decisions yet. The same group of vendors, however, has packed up their gear and gone to China where they are now performing field trials with China Mobile.
Telefonica isn’t limiting its trials to Europe. In addition to building networks in Spain, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic, Telefonica will run trials in Argentina and Brazil. Each vendor will be given a different country and will deploy its e-Node B base stations this year for the six-month testing period. Telefonica also said that the trials won’t necessarily be limited to six vendors or six countries. It will be open to other suppliers, which could leave the door open to players like Fujitsu or Motorola.
Meanwhile, Telefonica has plenty of time to make a decision. It has no projected timeline for deploying LTE and in most of its markets doesn’t even own free spectrum suitable for 4G. In fact, Telefonica said that the results of the trials will largely inform its LTE rollout strategy rather than the other way around. Bottom line, according to chief operating officer Julio Linares, Telefonica wants to be as prepared as possible.
“We are defining our strategy and the rollout of LTE with the objective of driving mobile broadband and offering the best service from the moment that the equipment and terminals can support the new standards and are available for sale,” Linares said.
That statement could be interpreted as highly aggressive or highly conservative. When Verizon and NTT DoCoMo launch their LTE networks next year, devices such as PC cards will hit the market. But if Linares means handsets or devices in volumes at the frequency bands Telefonica plans to support–that could take years. It’s a case of whether Telefonica wants to drive the market or if it wants to follow it. Right now it sounds like Telefonica is leaning toward the latter.