Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest carrier, will turn on its 4G LTE network in 38 metropolitan areas and 60 commercial airports Sunday Dec. 5. The network will offer speeds that are "10 times" that of its 3G network, according to Verizon executives.
Verizon will additionally begin offering two new 4G LTE USB modems for laptop connectivity, and offer data plans starting at $50 for monthly access to 5GB of data or $80 for 10GB of data. With both plans, each additional gigabyte will come at a cost of $10.
"There's no limit. We're not going to slow customers down," Tony Melone, Verizon's senior vice president and chief technical officer, said during a Dec. 1 conference call with analysts and reporters, adding that the company believes the deal is a "great value" for both consumer and business customers.
Overage charges have lately become a major consumer issue, with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski proposing to the commission in October that wireless carriers be made to alert consumers via text message when they're about to incur charges exceeding their monthly fee. To prevent so-called "bill shock," said Melone, "We've got a system in place that proactively [lets] users know when they've hit different percentages."
At, for example, 25, 50 and 75 percent of their data use, customers will be alerted via text message. They can also proactively visit their account manager application and check in on their data use status at any time.
Both new 4G modems-the Pantech UML290 and the LG Electronics VL600-will be available Dec. 5 for $100, after a $50 rebate and with a new two-year contract. Both will also provide backward compatibility to the Verizon's 3G network. During the call, Melone said that for now, all voice calls will be handled over the 3G network, while data will be handled over LTE, where it's available.
Melone added that, once Verizon's 4G footprint is large enough, the carrier will someday be able to service voice calls over voice-over IP (VOIP) and so handle everything on LTE-at which point it will be able to stop distinguishing between voice and data plans and offer customers a single solution. That time frame, Melone said, is likely "late 2012, early 2013."
"One of the reasons we're not going out with VOIP on LTE out of the gate is because it creates complexities that don't serve anyone," said Melone. "But in the future, everything will be LTE."
Melone additionally emphasized three points-that Verizon will continue to expand and enhance the network; that the same level of commitment and service that it applied to 3G will be the same for its 4G network; and that it believes its LTE network is the best available 4G offering. "Not all 4G is the same," he said, likely referring to competitor T-Mobile's newly launch campaign, in which it refers to its HSPA+ network as "America's largest 4G network." Eventually, T-Mobile also plans to roll out LTE technology, but for now it says that with HSPA+ it's able to offer speeds that are competitive with current 4G efforts.
According to Verizon, its LTE network will offer average speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps on the downlink and 2 to 5 on the uplink-which is in line with T-Mobile CEO Neville Ray's estimates for the T-Mobile 4G network.
Melone added that while Verizon originally wasn't sure that it would be the first to launch LTE-based 4G (it wasn't), it was sure that it would be the first "to offer it on a scale that will make a difference ... and make LTE the 4G standard."
Beginning Dec. 5, customers will also be able to view street-level coverage maps on the Verizon site, to check if their address is part of the initial rollout. By 2013, Verizon plans to expand its 4G LTE network to its entire 3G coverage area.