The Latest in LTE: Wireless Providers Expand Networks, Mobile Device Portfolios

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  March 01, 2012

This article originally appeared in the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

As the mobile throngs cry out for more expansive and higher-speed wireless connectivity, U.S. carriers are answering the call by bringing LTE (News - Alert) to additional markets and introducing a wide array of 4G-enabled devices.

Many new LTE devices made their debuts at this January’s Consumer Electronics show.

For example, Verizon Wireless at CES unveiled a variety of new devices – some of which have embedded global GSM/WCDMA roaming capabilities – for both consumers and business users.

New from Verizon at CES were Spectrum by LG, which features a 4.5-inch True HD In-Plane Switching display, and the Samsung (News - Alert) Galaxy Tab 7.7, which has a Super AMOLED Plus touchscreen display offering high-definition 720p (1280x800) resolution, a 1.4gHz dual-core processor, and an HTML5 web browser. Verizon also launched at CES a handful of LTE-enabled DROID by Motorola devices. The new Verizon Jetpack – EuFi890, meanwhile, is a ZTE-developed Global Ready 4G LTE mobile hotspot that can support up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices. The Verizon Jetpack – MiFi  4620L was also unveiled by the carrier at CES.

Verizon reportedly intends to support LTE in the vast majority of its smartphones and other devices – with the likely exception of push-to-talk devices – from here on out. The company also plans to support devices based on Microsoft’s Windows Phone (News - Alert) operating system.

As of January, Verizon was the leader in LTE availability, with service in 190 markets covering 200 million people. The wireless telco reportedly activated a record 2.2 million LTE devices in the fourth quarter of 2011.

That makes Verizon the clear leader in LTE. But AT&T, while quite a bit behind, is gaining on them.

Just five days into the new year AT&T announced that its LTE service is now available in 26 markets, and 74 million consumers, after it recently brought 4G to 11 new markets. New markets in which AT&T LTE recently went live include Austin, Texas; Chapel Hill and Raleigh, N.C.; the New York City metro area; Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.; Orlando; and Phoenix. AT&T in 2011 brought LTE to Athens and Atlanta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C.

And at the AT&T Developer Summit just a day before CES in Las Vegas, AT&T unveiled five smartphones and one tablet that are LTE enabled. The new included the announcement that AT&T will be the first to support Microsoft’s Windows Phones. That includes the HTC TITAN II smartphone, which has a 4.7-inch display and 16-megapixel camera, and Nokia LTE Windows Phone devices.  

Also to be introduced by AT&T early this year are new LTE Samsung smartphones including the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note; the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket HD, a 9.27-millimeter smartphone; and the Samsung Exhilarate, which AT&T says is the first 4G LTE smartphone built to meet many environmental and sustainability standards. Sony Xperia ion is an exclusive to AT&T, the carrier announced earlier this year. And AT&T announced in January plans to support and supply the Pantech Burst, a phone which will sell for less than $50, and the Pantech Element, which will sell for $299.99 with a two-year contract.

Sprint (News - Alert) is also getting in on the LTE action. The carrier, which was an early support of the 4G alternative WiMAX, now says it will launch LTE in 10 markets by midyear.

At the Citigroup Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference earlier this year, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said the company’s first LTE launches would be in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Texas.

“Within the first half of 2012, Sprint customers should experience firsthand the wide-reaching improvements we have made in terms of boosting voice and data quality,” said Bob Azzi, senior vice president of network at Sprint. “With advanced smartphones and sophisticated wireless modems, our customers are using more and more mobile data, and one of our top priorities is to provide the best technology possible to improve our customers’ experience.”

The LTE services will be supported on Sprint’s Network Vision platform, which relies on a network of multimode base stations across many of Sprint’s cell sites throughout the country. As discussed in the September issue of Next Gen Mobility, a new sister publication to INTERNET TELEPHONY, Network Vision involves replacing Sprint’s existing network with brand new software-based equipment at the cell sites, installing some new gear for backhaul, and leveraging the company’s spectrum assets on a number of fronts. The spectrum to be leveraged by the new network includes the 1.9gHz block used today by Sprint’s existing CDMA network; spectrum, mostly at 800mHz, from the Nextel iDEN network; and the 2.5gHz spectrum used by Sprint partner Clearwire to deliver WiMAX services. Because the new gear doesn’t marry the cellular technology or protocol with specific spectrum, Sprint says it will be able to combine all of the above to get the best of all worlds in terms of capacity and coverage.

As for devices, Sprint earlier this year announced support for two LTE smartphones (the Galaxy Nexus and the LG Viper) and a Sierra Wireless LTE mobile hotspot.

“The first three products that will run on the Sprint 4G LTE network exemplify the cutting-edge technology our customers can expect from Sprint as we progress with our 4G LTE rollout,” said Steve Elfman, president of network, wholesale and product development for Sprint. “Galaxy Nexus packs industry-leading features and the best of Google (News - Alert) into a beautiful design while LG Viper 4G LTE continues Sprint’s commitment to green devices that don’t sacrifice speed or technology. These products combine with our unlimited data pricing plans to give Sprint customers a powerful wireless experience.”

Edited by Jennifer Russell