AT&T's LTE Network Debuts Today in 5 Cities

AT&T will officially launch its faster LTE wireless service on Sunday in five cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

The launch meets AT&T's intention announced in May to have the five cities up and running by the end of the summer, but just barely, since fall begins September 23. A spokesman on Friday confirmed via e-mail that the official launch will occur Sunday, following comments made by AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens at a Merrill Lynch conference.

The spokesman also confirmed that AT&T still plans to have 15 cities, including the first five, running on LTE by year's end. The list of additional cities has not been officially announced. In all, those 15 cities would cover 70 million Americans, AT&T has said.

AT&T's staunchest rival, Verizon Wireless, launched its LTE service in late 2010, and this week said it had reached 143 markets with the addition of 26 markets on Thursday. Verizon said it has covered more than half the U.S. population with LTE.

Verizon has stated its LTE networks supports average data rates of 5Mbps to 12Mbps for downloads and 2 Mbps to 5Mbps for uploads. AT&T hasn't recently said what speeds users can expect to receive over its LTE network, although analysts said the amounts should be similar to Verizon's. An AT&T spokesman on Friday said LTE "data rates can vary."

AT&T also has said its HSPA+ network qualifies as a 4G speed and will work where LTE service is not available. AT&T earlier said it will deliver LTE over 700 MHz spectrum and 1700/2100 MHz AWS spectrum to offer strong coverage with high capacity.

Regarding devices, AT&T already offers the HTC Jetstream tablet for its LTE network. The 10.1-in. tablet runs Android 3.1 and sells for $700 with a two-year contract.

Verizon also sells the Elevate 4G hotspot and a Momentum 4G modem for LTE.

In what many interpret as a means of keeping data demand in check, Internet service on LTE devices at AT&T will cost $50 for 5GB of data per month, according to AT&T's spokesman. Each additional gigabyte will cost $10.

AT&T has said it will have 20 4G devices available by year's end, some of them running on LTE.

AT&T's first LTE smartphone is expected to be the HTC Holiday, also called the Raider, although the carrier has not announced the device. According to BGR and other Web sites, it will be a 4.5-in. touchscreen smartphone with a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor running Android 2.3.4 and has run download speeds on AT&T's LTE network in Dallas of 29Mbps. That would be a mostly uncrowded network prior to the official launch, however, where speeds should be high.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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