Verizon Wireless will begin offering its 4G LTE service in December, it announced in a new television spot. "Verizon 4G LTE: Rule the air on the most advanced 4G network in the world," says a voice over images of lighting. (You can view the ad on its Facebook page.)
While it doesn't offer an exact date, the ad follows on the carrier's promises of launching its new high-speed network this quarter. During its Oct. 22 third-quarter earnings announcement, Verizon CFO John Killian said, "We mentioned [covering 110 million people] by the end of the year ... and all systems are go. The network will be in extremely good shape."
In an update from earlier estimates, Verizon now says it will cover 38 metropolitan areas and 60 commercial airports by the close of 2010.
Killian added that Verizon believes there's still a "huge opportunity" for growth, and that, despite its already having a $20 billion a year wireless business, these are still "the early innings of the data explosion."
Of the four major carriers-Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, respectively-Sprint was the first to offer 4G, via Clearwire's WiMax technology, and during its most recent quarter, the Samsung Epic 4G and HTC Evo 4G-two phones that can take advantage of 4G speeds-helped it to achieve one of the best churn rates in its history, as well as its best total wireless subscriber additions since 2006.
Verizon was expected to be the next up with 4G, as well as the very first with 4G based on LTE (Long-Term Evolution), a competing technology to WiMax. However, T-Mobile beat it to the punch. Sort of. On Nov. 2, T-Mobile rolled out an ad describing itself as "America's Largest 4G Network," despite using HSPA+, a technology that it has earlier described at 3.5G.
Still, "today T-Mobile's HSPA+ network is delivering 4G speeds that match and often beat WiMax and are readily comparable to what early LTE will deliver," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said in a Nov. 2 statement.
Is it really 4G? The International Telecommunications Union hasn't formally defined what 4G means, which offers a good deal of wiggle room. Plus, the network is darn fast; T-Mobile released a smartphone, the myTouch 4G, to go with it; and analysts say that, since the ad campaign simplifies things for consumers, it's likely to work.
AT&T, bringing up the rear, plans to roll out LTE in 2011, but it will first finish deploying its own HSPA+ network-which it says will offer customers super-fast default speeds when they're out of the AT&T 4G footprint.
The nation's smaller carriers are also getting in on 4G. In September, MetroPCS went live with an LTE network in Las Vegas, and earlier this month U.S. Cellular said it will deploy an LTE network in 2012, potentially through a network wholesaler like LightSquared.
Even Sprint may offer an LTE network. In July, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told the Financial Times that it's considering rolling out LTE alongside its WiMax 4G offering.
Timing aside, in the end the contest may come down to whose 4G network is the largest, as well as the most effective-just as it has with 3G. During its earnings call, Verizon's Killian said that by 2012, Verizon expects its 4G LTE network to cover "virtually all of the company's current nationwide 3G footprint."