U.S. Wireless Carriers Take Different Routes Toward Fast 4G Service

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Verizon Moving Quickly Toward 4G

Verizon is also moving quickly to 4G, sticking to its promise of lighting up LTE networks in 25 to 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2010. The company isn't saying what those cities will be, but it says its LTE network will reach 100 million people by the end of this year.

Verizon says it will double the size of that deployment in early 2012. By 2013, Verizon's LTE coverage map will look similar to its popular 3G coverage maps today. In fact the 4G network may reach further than the existing 3G network, because Verizon owns 4G wireless spectrum (in the 700 MHz band) in more parts of the country than it does 3G spectrum.

The company is now testing the 4G LTE technology in Boston and Seattle. Verizon CTO Tony Malone said that, in those test markets, the 4G network is pumping out average download speeds of 5-12 megabits per second (mbps) and upload speeds of 2-5 mpbs. Verizon says it's seeing peek download speeds of 40-50 mbps.

Why the rush to 4G now? Verizon believes that new high-bandwidth apps like real-time multi-player gaming, video conferencing, and HD video streaming will increase in popularity, quickly necessitating the faster networks.

AT&T Not Rushing Toward 4G

AT&T Wireless
After so much talk about LTE and 4G here at CTIA, when you listen to AT&T's executives talk, you might think that AT&T is falling behind in the race to next-generation wireless networks. At a luncheon event with AT&T's top wireless people, the term "4G" wasn't mentioned even once, until somebody asked about it in the Q&A session at the end.

AT&T just finished a broad software upgrade of its cell sites to the faster HSPA 7.2 technology, and does not seem to be in a big hurry to upgrade the network further in the near term. And AT&T's existing network is performing very well now: Our recent 3G performance tests showed that AT&T's network is now more than 60 percent faster than competing networks in the 13 cities we tested.

AT&T broadband speeds improved more than 80 percent over the speeds delivered in our 13 testing cities when we tested just eight months prior. This dramatic improvement took place even as AT&T signed up more smartphone subscribers, and those users used unprecedented amounts of wireless broadband service.

At a luncheon here today, Ralph De La Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, said his company has enough wireless spectrum holdings nationwide to migrate them to LTE, even if an interim step to the faster HSPA+ is deemed necessary. While HSPA 7.2 maxes out at 7.2 mbps, HSPA+ can deliver speeds of more than 10 mbps on a consistent basis.

HSPA+ is a software upgrade allowing the radios on the cell towers to pump out speeds of 10 mbps or more to individual subscribers -- that is, if the subscriber is using a device that can handle those speeds.

As for LTE, AT&T has said that it will begin testing the new testing technologies in two cities by the end of 2010, but will not name the cities and will not detail its LTE plans beyond that. Nor will it comment on its 4G wireless spectrum holdings relative to those of its competitors.

Next: T-Mobile's Plans

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