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Verizon Wireless iPhones? Maybe in 2011

Welcome to the world, Verizon Wireless.

On Thursday, Verizon Wireless announced it would be using LTE (Long Term Evolution) as its fourth-generation wireless technology, aligning it for the first time with AT&T and European carriers.

LTE is a new wireless standard that the global GSM crowd has picked for its evolution beyond the current 3G (third-generation) HSDPA systems.

Up until now, Verizon Wireless has been part of a different crowd, backing technologies based on Qualcomm's CDMA2000 standard.

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But Verizon Wireless has been feeling pressure from part-owner Vodafone, a major global carrier conglomerate, to fall in line with the more globally popular GSM evolution.

(Verizon Wireless' other owner is, confusingly, the Verizon land-line corporation. The two use the same name and logo, but are different entities.)

This doesn't mean Verizon Wireless is immediately dropping its current CDMA network, or that it's switching to GSM.

Rather, it means that its next network, Europe's next networks and AT&T's network will all be built on the same technology.

When the full LTE rollout comes around — think 2010 or 2011 — there will be a much wider variety of hardware available for Verizon Wireless customers.

For example, Nokia, the world's No. 1 mobile-phone provider, which has always been weak in CDMA, has announced its glee at being able to play with Verizon Wireless in the future.

Combine this with Verizon Wireless' "open network" announcement earlier this week and you'll see a very different mobile landscape in a few years.

I'm assuming T-Mobile will move to LTE, too; it hasn't announced plans, but it's obvious for it because it's GSM-based and has a European parent.

That means that in a few years, people will be able to buy the same devices — and we're not just talking phones — and hook them up to Verizon Wireless's, AT&T's or T-Mobile's networks.

This move puts more pressure on Sprint Nextel, now the only champion of WiMAX as a competing next-generation technology.

And what of that upcoming 700-MHz auction? If Google gets hold of that spectrum and chooses yet another technology, we may still have fervent wireless technology competition (and confusion) in the U.S.

Qualcomm is a loser here, but not as much as you might think.

It has a stranglehold over the Internet protocol in CDMA2000, but it has interests in LTE as well. It's not going anywhere; it's just going to have to compete more aggressively.

Still, this is great news for Verizon Wireless customers and U.S. consumers in general.

With Verizon Wireless, AT&T and European carriers aligned, we're going to see more devices, less expensive devices and more choices of service plans. You'll just have to wait a few years.

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