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Verizon shows off new high-tech network in lead-up to Alaska rollout

Sean Doogan
Verizon Wireless V.P. Demian Voiles, right, in Anchorage, demonstrates their "Advanced Calling" feature by making an HD voice and HD video call simultaneously all over one network to Verizon cellular technician Kevin Austin, left, in Fairbanks on Monday, August 25, 2014. Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News

Officials with national telecom giant Verizon said Monday that when they debut their Alaska network in the coming weeks it will come with cutting-edge technology -- including phone call and video quality not currently available to its Lower 48 customers. Verizon said it is waiting to debut the new features until its Alaska stores and 4G LTE high-speed network officially open, which Verizon public relations director Scott Charlston said should be sometime in the next few weeks.

Usually lagging behind its Lower 48 counterparts in technological access, Alaska is the newest area that Verizon has added to its network. The company began acquiring bandwidth spectrum and permits in 2010, with engineering and construction starting in 2011. That means Verizon's Alaska cell towers were built to handle 4G LTE, which the company says is about 10 times faster than 3G networks. That Alaska is being added so late to the Verizon network also means it will be the only state in Verizon's network built entirely for LTE, which means "long-term evolution," a standard for high-speed data delivery to mobile devices.

When it opens the Alaska network, Charlston said, it will also be debuting its new "advanced calling" features that will enable Verizon customers to have high-definition sound and enhanced video clarity for calls, as long as they're communicating with other Verizon customers. The advanced calling features, which only work if both ends of the call are Verizon clients with an LTE connection, are not yet available to other U.S. consumers. 

 "What really gets me excited is that us, in Alaska ... we really get to jump on board as among the first in the country to use this new technology," said Demian Voiles, Verizon's Alaska vice president. "Alaskans get to be on the cutting edge, finally, of technology."

Verizon also claims the sound quality it will offer in Alaska is better than what is available on land lines.

Voiles refused to say exactly when Verizon would be taking on new Alaska customers, only saying that the company is launching its Alaska network in a matter of "weeks, not months." Voiles said the features would be available from Fairbanks to Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Ketchikan, Juneau, Copper River Valley, and much of Prince William Sound.

"That is just phase one," Voiles said. "We will be immediately looking to extend that coverage."

Other Alaska telecom companies, including local company Alaska Communications and national competitor AT&T, have spent significant resources in recent years expanding their own high-speed mobile data networks in anticipation of Verizon's arrival in the state. In 2013, ACS and GCI even merged their wireless networks into a unified system dubbed the "Alaska Wireless Network" in a "competitive response" to Verizon's entry into Alaska's market. 

Contact Sean Doogan at sean@alaskadispatch.com.