ATandT, Verizon 4G LTE Juggernaut Gathers Speed

News Analysis: With AT&T announcing LTE deployment plans, these high-speed networks are growing rapidly across the U.S., bringing a 4G-like experience to millions, especially if they're using Verizon Wireless. With other carriers, the prospects for LTE are not so clear.

The announcement by AT&T that it would be launchingLong-Term Evolution phones in five markets by sometime this summer is an indicator of the current trend toward LTE generally throughout the United States. While the carriers implementing LTE are calling it 4G technology, it's more of a pre-4G implementation.

To be true 4G, these networks would have to support download speeds of 100M bps. Right now, the only commercial wireless network that's even approaching 4G speeds is T-Mobile's 42M bps HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access) network.

T-Mobile announced May 24 that the company was cranking up the speed on its 4G network to the new higher speed in over 50 markets. In other words, T-Mobile is providing wireless data services in 10 times as many markets at over twice the speed of AT&T, which is trying to take it over.

It's worth noting that one of AT&T's stated goals if it's allowed to consume T-Mobile, is to dismantle T-Mobile's data network so it can build its own slower LTE network. I'm sure this makes perfect sense to AT&T, just as it would to any other company to whom customers are meaningless. (Do you doubt this? Just check AT&T's customer-satisfaction ratings.)

If T-Mobile's high-speed data network expansion didn't make AT&T's efforts look pathetic in their own right, considerVerizon Wireless, which is expanding to 21 additional markets by mid-June, giving the company LTE coverage in 76 markets. The company claims that the Verizon Wireless network will cover every area presently covered by 3G before the end of 2013. Considering that Verizon Wireless has consistently delivered on its network promises early, their claim is certainly credible.

With AT&T, these claims need to be taken with a grain of salt. AT&T says that it will cover 15 markets by the end of the year with LTE. The first five of those markets, three of which are in Texas, will arrive "this summer," according to a press release by AT&T CTO John Donovan.

There was no specific implementation date on the release, which was issued the day after T-Mobile announced its expansion and two days after Verizon made its announcement. Right now, AT&T has no LTE devices, which is no surprise since the network isn't available yet. But it's not even saying what LTE devices it will support, beyond the claim that there will be 20 of them.

The best bet is that AT&T will start with an LTE wireless USB air card, just like everyone else. These devices are already available from Verizon Wireless, and it won't take a lot of effort by manufacturers to convert existing LTE cards so they work on AT&T's network. LTE phones are another matter.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...