Mobile Phones Will Need to Catch Up with the Networks
Right now, there aren't any GSM phones with LTE capabilities available in the U.S. Another complication is that any LTE phone that AT&T releases initially will also have to support HSPA+ unless it plans to restrict phone sales to people in Texas at first. The bottom line is that AT&T will have to get someone to engineer a handset that will work with GSM, 3G, HSPA+ and LTE. That's certainly not an impossible task since such phones are starting to appear in Europe, but it'll still take some time. Sprint, meanwhile, is probably inching toward LTE as well. The company hasn't made any announcements itself, but 4G partner Clearwire has said that it will be migrating to LTE in the future. Clearwire is already testing LTE in Phoenix and has been for some time, so this isn't a surprise.Of course, that may not matter. AT&T plans to buy T-Mobile, absorb its users into its network and dismantle T-Mobile's remains. The goal is to decommission many, perhaps most, of T-Mobile's existing cell sites and use that infrastructure to build out its LTE network. The problem with this is that AT&T so far has demonstrated that it's not able to handle the demands on its 3G network. How it will focus money and energy on building out a 4G network, especially given the billions of dollars it's spending on the T-Mobile acquisition regardless of whether it's successful, is unclear right now. Ultimately, the good news is that 4G wireless in the U.S. is at least well on its way. This is especially good news if you're a customer of Verizon Wireless. It might be good news if you're an AT&T customer, but only in the event that the T-Mobile acquisition goes through. Without that, it's going to be tough sledding for AT&T. For Sprint and T-Mobile, the picture is less clear. Eventually, Clearwire may move to LTE, or given its financial struggles, it might not. For T-Mobile customers, there's no obvious move to LTE in the picture, although it's not clear there needs to be.
Right now, the only LTE holdout is T-Mobile, which just keeps making its existing HSPA+ network faster and faster. The 42M bps theoretical speed is vastly faster than anything the LTE vendors are offering. But so far, T-Mobile hasn't announced any LTE plans at all. In the short term, T-Mobile can get a lot of mileage just by being faster than the other guys. But it's not clear how well HSPA+ will hold up in the long term.