Network operator AT&T announced that it will launch its Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G wireless network in five cities across the United States, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The company said it expects to expand the service to 15 markets and 70 million people by the end of the year.
Speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2011 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, John Stephens, AT&T senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, revealed the plans.
AT&T has already released two devices that can access the company's 4G LTE network: a mobile WiFi hotspot and a USB stick. The company's first 4G LTE mobile hotspot device, the Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G, allows access to 4G LTE speeds on up to five WiFi-enabled devices in select markets. The company began selling the USBConnect Momentum 4G in black and silver for $49.99 with a two-year contract after a $50 mail-in rebate. The Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G is available in black for $69.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.
The hotspot allows users to email, browse, download presentations and more on LTE or AT&T's nationwide HSPA+ network. With the USBConnect Momentum 4G, customers can access 4G LTE speeds, where available, and when out of range have access to the company's nationwide HSPA+ network, delivering 4G speeds when combined with enhanced backhaul.
Customers can also access unlimited usage on AT&T's entire national WiFi network if using a post-paid data plan, and manage their connections and data usage with the preloaded AT&T Communication Manager. In addition, the company plans to add 20 4G devices to its portfolio this year, with some of those being LTE-compatible.
Rival Verizon also announced an expansion of its 4G LTE network, turning on the network in 26 additional cities and expanding its network in San Francisco, Indianapolis and Cleveland/Akron, bringing the company's 4G LTE network to a total of 143 markets across the United States. In addition, the company is working with rural communications companies to build and operate a 4G LTE network in those areas using the tower and backhaul assets of the rural company and Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE equipment and 700MHz spectrum.
As AT&T expands its 4G network, it is running into problems as it attempts to acquire rival operator T-Mobile USA. The U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit Aug. 31 seeking to prevent the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, a $39 billion deal. The DOJ argues the merger would reduce competition for mobile wireless communications services across the United States, according to a statement provided by the Justice Department.
The DOJ statement added that the merger would result in higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices and less product innovation. The Justice Department filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia-the same court that oversaw the original breakup of AT&T.
Stephens addressed some of those issues at the beginning of his conference speech.
"We have been and remain interested in a solution that addresses the DOJ's issues with the T-Mobile transaction," Stephens said at the time. "We will continue to seek an expedited court hearing and at the same time work with the DOJ. We're going to continue to work on the process with the FCC [Federal Communications Commission]. Support for the merger remains strong."