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In its recently quarterly earnings report, Verizon Wireless noted that more than 500,000 customers signed up for LTE services and/or devices during its most recent quarter. Add that to the 65,000 who signed up in December, and Verizon has about 565,000 people using its next-generation wireless network. At this rate, Verizon may have more than 2 million 4G users by the end of the year.
Of the 500,000 who signed up for 4G services this quarter, more than half (260,000) chose a 4G phone--the HTC Thunderbolt--that went on sale in mid-March. It scored a significant number of customers in its first two weeks of availability. That means between January 1 and March 15, about 240,000 people purchased other 4G devices, such as USB modems.
This is significant for a few reasons. Verizon Wireless is plowing full steam ahead with the deployment of its next-generation network. It is looking to convert as many 3G users it can into 4G users by offering attractive data pricing for USB modems, mobile hotspots, and smartphones. For example, monthly, post-paid mobile broadband plans start at $60 for 3G, but are $50 for 4G. With so many people jumping on board in the first few months of availability, there seems to be clear demand for faster mobile broadband services.
What is more important is the types of devices adopted, as shown by the scale of Thunderbolt sales. More than half of Verizon's 4G subscribers during the quarter came from a single product that didn't hit store shelves until the last 14-day stretch. The dedicated USB modems, it turns out, were not huge sellers throughout the quarter, moving only about 240,000.
Verizon has a number of LTE 4G smartphones on the works, including the Samsung Droid Charge, which will hit store shelves on April 28. The Motorola Droid Bionic will go on sale later this year, as will an LTE 4G Android smartphone from LG. Verizon Wireless also recently added several mobile hotspot devices, including a Novatel-made MiFi, to its arsenal of 4G devices. Verizon's LTE numbers are about to take off now that it has a bigger supply of 4G hardware from which to choose.
The problem is, there isn't much to compare these numbers to. For example, T-Mobile USA has not made sales figures of its fastest HSPA+ devices available. It now has a dozen or so phones with access to mobile broadband speeds up to 14.4 Mbps, and some can reach 21 Mbps.
There also is little information about the number of WiMax subscribers. Sprint and Clearwire has been, uh, less than clear about the exact nature of its subscribers. Clearwire says it has 1.1 million retail customers (people who purchase Clear-branded equipment/services) and 3.3 million wholesale customers (people who buy WiMax equipment/services through Sprint, Comcast and Time Warner Cable). That totals 4.4 million, and includes a wide range of users with devices such as mobile hotspots, USB modems, laptops, and smartphones. Sprint has been actively selling WiMax gear a lot longer than Verizon Wireless.
AT&T's "4G" network barely counts. Until AT&T launches LTE later this year, it isn't much of a factor.
So, at least one company is demonstrating that U.S. buyers want fast mobile broadband. Will LTE win out in the end?