The country's top two wireless operators came away with the bulk of licenses from the 700 MHz auction that concluded in March. And it appears the big technology winner is long-term evolution — one of the proposed fourth-generation platforms — which is based on all-IP orthogonal frequency division multiplex, or OFDM.

The FCC announced the end of the auction on March 20, but winners were limited in commenting until the commission's anti-collusion quiet period ended late in the day on April 3.

Afterward, Verizon Wireless was busy assuring its investors that its $9.36 billion investment in C Block spectrum would provide a long-term foundation for the company's business. Specifically, the carrier announced it would work with part-owner Vodafone to conduct field trials of LTE this year, select vendors in 2009 and conduct advanced device trials. Verizon is planning to launch the technology commercially by 2010 and rapidly accelerate deployments in its footprint.

The operator said the breadth of its national C Block spectrum footprint — all in a single band and with a depth of 22 MHz — provides a speed and performance advantage that will be ideal for connecting a variety of consumer electronics, ranging from wireless phones to medical devices to gaming consoles. In addition, Verizon won 102 individual licenses in the A and B blocks to provide additional growth capacity in key markets.

“The industry for us is really not just about people anymore, it's about a broad array of connections,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said during a conference call with analysts. “It is the entire population we can look at, but now moving into connecting everything and anything together.”

The nation's largest operator, AT&T Mobility — which spent $6.6 billion for B Block licenses — also will deploy LTE technology by 2010. AT&T plans to combine its new spectrum with airwaves it acquired from Aloha Partners last year for $2.5 billion in cash. Aloha Partners owned paired spectrum from 710-716 MHz and from 740-746 MHz.

The spectrum covers 196 million people in 281 markets, including 72 of the top 100 markets, according to the carrier.

Verizon and AT&T are embarking on a swift schedule due to the expectation that competitor Sprint Nextel will launch its mobile WiMAX network this year. However, Sprint last month announced that it would delay its launch of WiMAX scheduled in April, instead aiming for this summer. The company admitted that it simply wasn't ready to launch. Analysts say the delay opens the window wider for competitor technology LTE.

But it might be a stretch for Verizon and AT&T to make a 2010 launch date, given that the standard isn't complete today and no vendor has introduced commercial equipment or devices.

“I'm still counting on 2011,” said Peter Jarich, analyst with Current Analysis. “It will be really tough, but the initial launches could be at the end of 2010 in just a few markets.”