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AT&T announced that it has selected Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson as infrastructure suppliers for its Long Term Evolution network, which is scheduled for commercial deployment in 2011.
The vendor choices and the rollout timetable were expected in AT&T's competition with Verizon Wireless, which is planning to launch its LTE network in 25 to 30 urban areas later this year.
The two infrastructure providers already provide gear for AT&T's 3G network, and AT&T said that 3G equipment "will be easily convertible to LTE, enabling AT&T to upgrade existing equipment and software rather than install entirely new equipment in many cases as it deploys the next-generation technology."
Alcatel-Lucent said it is providing eNodeB LTE base stations, element management systems, and engineering and installation services for the new super-robust network. In addition, the company is providing its 9900 Wireless Network Guardian service that helps manage the network.
Both infrastructure firms have been deploying Verizon Wireless' LTE network, which is being upgraded from its existing 3G CDMA network. Ericsson improved its CDMA and LTE expertise last year when it acquired Nortel Networks' CDMA/LTE unit for more than $1 billion. Ericsson recently began rolling out an LTE network in Stockholm, Sweden. Ericsson has also been selected by pre-paid mobile phone provider MetroPCS to provide infrastructure for its LTE network.
"AT&T has a key advantage in that LTE is an evolution of the existing GSM family of technologies that powers our network and the vast majority of the world's global wireless infrastructure today," said John Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T operations, in a statement. "As some competitors move away from their existing investment in niche 3G platforms, we are able to efficiently and quickly move toward LTE while enhancing our existing 3G performance and providing access to a strong ecosystem of customer devices."
AT&T noted that LTE devices are still in development and aren't expected to be widely available until 2011.
Device manufacturers have been racing to provide data cards for Verizon Wireless' LTE network, probably for release later this year. At least five handset manufacturers are working on LTE devices, but no handsets have been unveiled as yet.
AT&T noted that this year it has earmarked between $18 billion and $19 billion in capital expenditures, including an increase of about $2 billion for wireless and backhaul work. Pushed by its iPhone users' heavy data usage, AT&T's mobile broadband traffic has increased more than 5000% over the past three years. AT&T, the second largest mobile phone provider, said its 10 HSPA 7.2 handsets can take advantage of fast 3G speeds as new backhaul is added.
AT&T maintains that its existing 3G network is the fasted in the nation, although that claim is challenged by Verizon and other mobile providers.