Verizon Wireless announces LTE 4G plans
Verizon Wireless will launch its 4G "LTE" mobile-broadband service on Sunday in 38 cities (including Washington) and 60 airports across the United States.
The Basking Ridge, N.J.,-based carrier says this upgrade will offer 110 million Americans access to 10 times the speed of its current 3G service: downloads of 5 to 12 million bits per second (Mbps) and uploads of 2 to 5 Mbps. It should also offer half the latency of 3G, improving the performance of Internet calling services and other interactive applications.
Verizon, the largest U.S. carrier, will charge $50 for 5 gigabytes a month and $80 for 10 GB, with each extra gigabyte or fraction costing an extra $10. Neither plan includes voice calling, as its LTE service will initially be limited to two $99.99 USB modems. It won't ship LTE-compatible smartphones until the middle of 2011, although it expects to provide more information about those next month at the Consumer Electronics Show.
But these new models won't be 4G phones when you try to call somebody. To avoid dropped calls when moving from 4G to 3G service areas, Verizon will keep voice on its older network until its LTE coverage matches its 3G range, which won't happen until 2013. Only then will it move to a pure Internet-calling system for voice, at which point we can presumably do away with separate buckets of minutes in service plans.
Verizon's 4G service will run on parts of the 700 MHz wireless spectrum that was freed up by the end of analog television broadcasts last year.
LTE, short for "Long Term Evolution," is supposed to become a Grand Unified Theory of wireless telecommunications, employed even more widely than today's GSM technology. But the industry in the United States is far from coalescing around LTE.
AT&T, Verizon's next-biggest competitor, won't begin its own LTE deployment until the middle of 2011. In the meantime, it's touting an upgrade of its 3G service to a faster version, HSPA+," that offers 4G-ish speeds.
T-Mobile began adding HSPA+ to its 3G network before AT&T and has since been upgrading its marketing, as well. In March, the carrier called its quicker service "the nation's fastest wireless 3G network". In July, it said it offered "4G speeds". Now it simply calls it "4G."
Sprint has been on a different track, using a competing technology called WiMax to start offering 4G access in October 2008. It had service in Washington by the time it shipped its Evo Android phone in June, although it didn't formally announce a 4G launch here until Monday.
Sprint is not wedded to WiMax, however; as I was told during a visit to one of its 4G cell sites in September. It can convert its WiMax transmitters to LTE with a software upgrade. (Appeasing owners of now-obsolete WiMax phones would be a different matter.)
Meanwhile, Verizon has a difficult task as it begins a long build-out of 4G service. The conference call it set up for reporters provided an unintentional reminder of how technology can break down: It began with a few minutes of hold music punctuated by "thank you for your patience" recordings.
When do you think you'll be using a 4G phone? Do you even care about this upgrade, or are there other features you'd rather see in your next phone?
| December 1, 2010; 1:40 PM ET
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