September 15, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
AT&T has been advertising “4G” since 2010, but the HSPA+ speeds available on AT&T’s phones were well short of what most would consider to be next generation. Beginning Sunday, September 18, AT&T will introduce a proper 4G network when it powers on LTE in five select markets.
FierceWireless reports AT&T CFO John Stephens said LTE service starts in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio this week. These will be the first of what AT&T aims to be 15 markets of LTE by the close of 2012. The fight for 4G supremacy between the nation’s two largest carriers – AT&T and Verizon – begins in a few days.
It doesn’t look like much of a fight yet. AT&T has ceded the early rounds to Verizon, which has blazed an an aggressive roll-out path across the United States since it began offering LTE last year. Today, Verizon announced an additional 26 markets with LTE, bringing the total number of markets served to 143. That means half of the United States’ population, 160 million people, can choose to sign-up for LTE service through Verizon. AT&T will be available to only a fraction of those users by year’s end.
AT&T’s delayed entrance into LTE presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. The battle for who has the best long-term evolution network will be just that – long-term. We saw AT&T and Verizon snip at each other while both companies were still bringing 3G service to more cities, and the same may play out with 4G. However, AT&T has a subscriber base as big as Verizon that could grow to be much bigger if it succeeds in acquiring T-Mobile USA. Convincing those users to stick around and upgrade to new 4G capable devices, of which AT&T currently has only the HTC Jetstream tablet, will be crucial to catching-up to Verizon.
At the moment, Verizon has the benefits of a much larger coverage area and bigger device portfolio. AT&T’s still got a shot at early growth if it can deliver comparable speeds in the few markets that both it and Verizon serves. John Stankey, president of AT&T’s business solutions, says it’s network speeds will be “consistent with those that have been given by the top competitors.” Verizon is piping 5-12 Mbps down and 2-5 Mbps up in most areas. AT&T better hope it can deliver the same…and quickly.