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AT&T's decision to accelerate its ramp up of Long Term Evolution (LTE) will likely prematurely place it in a head-to-head competition with Verizon Wireless.
Verizon Wireless, which is already racing to install the super-high-speed LTE wireless infrastructure, is a year ahead in the deployment race.
AT&T this week put a favorable spin on its move by saying that "most industry overseers expect 4G LTE networks and device availability to scale" in the 2011 to 2012 timeframe. Verizon Wireless, of course, has said it plans to begin LTE rollouts later this year with widespread commercial deployment to take place in 2010.
"AT&T plans to begin LTE trials in 2010, with deployment beginning in 2011," AT&T said in its announcement. In a sense, AT&T's situation is something of an embarrassment of riches, because its success with the popular iPhone is causing it to deploy LTE ahead of time to keep up with demand, particularly with data demand on the iPhone and other smartphones.
"It's all a positive for the industry, though," wireless consultant Joe Nordgaard said in an interview Thursday. "There will be more LTE handsets, chipsets, even antennas. The construction guys will also thrive." Even so, Nordgaard, who is managing director of wireless consultancy Spectral Advantage, said the big challenge for both companies will be to create a "stable evolutionary path" from older 3G technologies to LTE.
AT&T has fended off frequent complaints from subscribers over speed and robustness of iPhone access since the iconic device was first announced; most iPhone owners, however, are so enchanted with the ease of use and other features of the Apple handset that they don't care about infrastructure robustness.
Moreover, AT&T likes to say it has "the nation's fastest 3G network" and this week announced plans for upgrades to HSPA 7.2 technology, with completion expected in 2011, which is the same year it plans to deploy LTE.
The LTE race is now on and, with the two companies supporting the same LTE infrastructure, consumers will be able to compare LTE apples and apples rather than their current comparison of HSPA apples and Verizon CDMA oranges.
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