"Say you want a revolution" -- the LG Revolution 4G will be among Verizon's first 4G-capable handsets, launching during the summer.  (Source: CNN)

Verizon's iPhone will soon receive an update to allow FaceTime video chats over 3G, something AT&T doesn't support. Then in 2012, it will turn on 4G video chats using its new VoLTE technology.  (Source: Verizon via YouTube)
Sprint already offers video chat on 4G, but no voice-only first-party 4G service

America's largest telecommunications company, Verizon Wireless, is hoping to take a leap ahead in the next-generation mobile communications arms race.   Brian Higgins, executive director for ecosystem development at Verizon Wireless, revealed to CNN that the carrier would be debuting a new 4G powered voice and video chat service, sometime early next year.

Dubbed "Voice Over LTE" (VoLTE), the technology uses data length to transmit voice and video, similar to voice-over-IP services like Skype.  The only difference is that the signal has to make the wireless jump across the air, before being relayed along the network's fiber data backbone.

VoLTE will be powered by Verizon's Long-Term Evolution network, the company's 4G pick of choice.  So far Verizon has been the biggest backer of the tech, with its current 4G LTE network covering about a third of the U.S. population, almost entirely in cities.  That's roughly in line with the coverage of Sprint's rival 4G technology, WiMAX.

Sprint already is offering phones that use the 4G-link to relay data and video chat (though it doesn't offer first party support for 4G voice calls).  Verizon's first LTE-capable phone, the Android-powered LG Revolution 4G, will be demoed next week at the annual Mobile World Conference (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.

The LG Revolution 4G could be a huge hit for Verizon, particularly when it adds VoLTE mid-lifespan.  That could mean a bit of redemption for LG, who has struggled in the smart phone race.  The phone is expected to launch this summer, with 4G data only.  It will be powered by the upcoming Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system.

The Revolution will come with a video chat service from Skype, according to Marni Walden [profile], Verizon's marketing chief.

Rival AT&T, America's second largest carrier, plans to start deploying its own 4G LTE network in H2 2011.  The company is working with Verizon to offer a coherent VoLTE standard, which the two companies call "One Voice".  The key focus will be to leverage LTE to improve voice quality and reliability.

Currently, Verizon's new iPhone 4, which launches in stores Thursday, can only make FaceTime calls over Wi-Fi, like the iPhone 4 on AT&T.  Verizon engineers are testing a software update that will allow 3G FaceTime.  And then early next year, 4G FaceTime will finally go live.  Once that happens, Verizon (and the iPhone) will finally have caught up to Sprint, whose Android smart phones come with the 4G capable Qik video chat service.

Subscribers to Verizon's LTE data service can already make wireless VoIP video chat calls on services like Skype on their computer.

Verizon and other carriers are currently grappling with how to deal with existing wireless VoIP services like Skype and Google Voice.  Those services often allow users to ditch more expensive higher minutes plans, by transmitting calls directly over data networks.  That's a huge threat to the large monthly premiums carriers charge for voice traffic.

Verizon insists that it will simply try to outcompete these services, not ban them.  States Ms. Walden, "We're not going to run away from the innovation that's happening out there. We're going to make sure we innovate it better or integrate it better on our devices than anyone else, as opposed to putting up a walled garden. With the data capabilities that the 4G LTE network is going to provide, there are opportunities to grow revenue." 

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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