AT&T brings 3G into 4G argument with Verizon. Should they? [OPINION]

December 1, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka

AT&T, Carriers


While the mobile tech world is collectively making sense of how Verizon’s new 4G LTE announcement will affect the industry, AT&T has jumped into the conversation with a well-timed letter from CTO John Donovan. The letter can be read at AT&T Innovation Space, but it can be boiled down to one theme: AT&T’s offers customers better service now and will continue to do so in the 4G era.

CTO John Donovan says that AT&T agrees with competitors that speed is important, but “in their haste to build LTE networks,” [Verizon] fails to mention that consistent speed is equally important. AT&T argues that its HSPA+ network is the best and when it rolls-out LTE in mid-2011, customers will have “a more consistent mobile broadband experience that supports simultaneous voice and data connections and higher speeds than the others can provide outside their LTE footprint.”

In other words, Verizon will still be hobbled by its CDMA network outside of LTE areas and will offer 3G speeds inferior to AT&T’s 3G/HSPA+ footprint. AT&T has its own issues of inferior coverage and network reliability according to Verizon, but the frequent flare-ups are a reminder that the carrier wars of the next generation will be a legacy fight. Not only will we have to deal with the questions of what’s “real” 4G and compare coverage maps, but we’ll still have carriers continuing the same 3G arguments we’ve heard all year.

AT&T and Verizon continue to snipe at each other, but AT&T shouldn’t bother with the old GSM vs. CDMA debate because most potential customers will live in an area with LTE coverage. The two networks will be on equal footing in New York or LA, so why bring up whether or not 4G will exist in Boise? As a consumer, I’d rather hear Donovan talk about which LTE network will be more stable and widely-available within my home market. I want my 4G network to perform as well in the suburbs or outer boroughs as it does downtown.

AT&T claims simultaneous voice/data matters to consumers

I’m also more interested in hearing arguments about price. Verizon announced today that it will sell 5GB plans for $50, 10 GB plans for $80, and charge an additional $10 per GB over that. AT&T will likely follow suit with tiered plans, but it should offer more competitive prices. When all things are equal, price is usually the determining factor. Yes, people desire a network that can make calls and use data at the same time, but that’s a legacy issue. Let’s talk about which network won’t cost me an arm and a leg for the privilege because I’ll rarely be in places where simultaneous voice/data matters.

T-Mobile and Sprint are more affordable than AT&T and Verizon, but they may not be as widely-available with their 4G networks by the time AT&T flips the switch next year. Big Blue is unlikely to be as cheap as either carrier, but it has a chance to be cheaper than, as fast, and as available as Verizon. AT&T should focus on seizing that opportunity.