Verizon Wireless will start offering LTE service, as well as a couple of LTE-capable USB sticks, Dec. 5. The service will begin in 38 major metropolitan areas and 60 major commercial airports, as has previously been reported in eWEEK.
By announcing the Dec. 5 launch, Verizon Wireless beat its own deadline, which was originally the end of December. The LTE service, which Verizon Wireless is calling its “4G” service in line with what has become industry marketing practice, will produce download speeds from 5M to 12M bps, and upload speeds of 2M to 5M bps. This is somewhat faster than the Sprint/Clearwire version of 4G and slightly slower than the T-Mobile version.
As Michelle Maisto points out in her eWEEK story on the launch, this is about 10 times faster than the existing Verizon Wireless 3G network. The company predicts that it will be the largest 4G network in the United States when it goes live.
As expected, Clearwire and T-Mobile disagree. Shortly after the Verizon Wireless announcement Dec. 1, Clearwire released a grid showing that it will have slightly more people covered than Verizon by the end of the year. T-Mobile, in a statement released Nov. 30, is claiming that it will cover nearly 200 million people-nearly twice Verizon’s coverage-by the end of December.
Both Sprint and T-Mobile point out in their respective press releases that they each have two 4G phones (all of which are Android devices) while Verizon has none. Verizon Wireless will be releasing those two USB wireless sticks on the launch day, with two more to come later. Clearwire says it has four of those, while T-Mobile has two, only one of which handles the full HSPA+ speeds. Sprint is claiming 45 notebook or netbook computers with embedded support; T-Mobile has one; and both companies point out that Verizon has none.
We are, clearly, in one of those “mine is better/bigger/faster/cooler than yours” modes in which we will be bombarded constantly by press releases trying to explain all of this with a spin that favors the sender, whoever that happens to be. You as customers will likewise see a constant barrage of commercials from each of these companies claiming to be the best in some way, but mostly confusing the issue with conflicting claims.
The cost of service will probably be the second big area of contention. Clearwire is quick to point out that its service is cheaper than Verizon’s, and that you get unlimited usage. However, Clearwire incorrectly claims that Verizon doesn’t allow unlimited use. In fact, customers do get unlimited use as long as they’ve willing to keep paying the $10 per gigabyte overage fees. T-Mobile isn’t discussing fees right now, probably because the company is planning a move to a new usage-based plan for 4G data.
Carriers Rush to Declare Their 4G Worthiness
Both T-Mobile and Clearwire point out that today’s 4G speeds are only the beginning. Both companies say they have a plan that will eventually let them grow to true 4G speeds in the next year or two.
Verizon Wireless spokesperson Tony Melone said that his company isn’t planning to increase speeds beyond the current LTE network’s capability, at least not in the immediate future. Melone pointed out that the company’s first priority is covering its existing 3G footprint with 4G as well, a task he said will take until 2013.
Melone also said Verizon Wireless is building its network with an eye toward robustness. When asked about the network’s ability to support massive demand for 4G, such as when Verizon gets the iPhone, Melone responded, “That’s what we do.”
Unlike its two competitors, however, Verizon’s Melone admitted that while the company is calling its LTE service 4G, it realizes that it doesn’t meet the ITU requirements. His position is that what really matters is the customer experience, and that customers will find the new Verizon Wireless LTE to be a lot faster than 3G. He also made it clear that LTE and the other high-speed services have been called 4G for a few years now, so it’s what customers expect. He said that the fact that it doesn’t meet ITU standards isn’t really relevant. “We could call it chicken soup and it wouldn’t matter,” as long as it’s fast enough, he pointed out.
While the new Verizon 4G service will launch Dec. 5, it’ll be a couple of months before you can buy anything besides a USB wireless stick for the service. Actual phones won’t be available until sometime in 2011. Melone said they’ll be in stores by midyear, but when asked about statements that the first phones will be ready by February, he didn’t deny that those dates were still correct.
Verizon’s Dec. 1 announcement wasn’t a big surprise. The company said it would have 4G this month, although it appears that it’s arriving earlier than originally anticipated. That announcement kicked off announcements by the other aspiring 4G vendors, none of whom is actually providing 4G right now.
But Verizon’s 4G announcement at least clears the way for faster coverage by all but one of the major carriers. From the respective announcements, it seems that the offerings are more or less equivalent, although none of the carriers would admit that, of course. But the good news is that connectivity is now really fast from everyone except AT&T, and regardless of what you call it, that’s a good thing.