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AT&T LTE goes live Sunday


AT&T will turn on its first five LTE markets on Sunday, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens revealed while speaking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch financial conference today. AT&T has already started selling three modems that support LTE (CP: AT&T LTE devices go on sale), and there have been several reports of customers being able to access the network on a limited basis. But Sunday will mark the official launch of commercial service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

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Its planned “summer” launch may seem a bit late to some, but according to the astronomical calendars at AT&T HQ, it’s going live with a several days to spare (Unfiltered: AT&T may not launch LTE until the autumnal equinox). AT&T will sell LTE capacity just as it sells bandwidth on its 3G and high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) networks, for roughly $10 a gigabyte. So far, it has revealed only one package: $50 for 5 GB a month, with $10 for each gigabyte of overage.

In the LTE race, AT&T has some catching up to do. Verizon has rolled out its LTE network to 143 markets, big and small, covering well over 160 million pops (Unfiltered: VZW packs another 26 markets into LTE footprint). AT&T plans to add an additional 10 markets to its first five, covering 70 million pops by year end. Verizon’s goal is to reach 185 million pops at the same time.

While AT&T may not have the LTE coverage of its biggest rival, it has a stronger reserve team. AT&T will be the only operator to back up its 4G network with another so-called 4G network. All the LTE devices sold so far also contain HSPA+ radios, giving AT&T’s customers much faster access speeds when they leave LTE coverage than VZW customers, who would switch over to its 3G EV-DO network. AT&T hasn’t quantified the extent of its HSPA+ coverage yet, but its coverage maps show that the mobile broadband service is now available in most major U.S. markets (CP: The Connected Planet 4G Scorecard).

Though AT&T hasn’t revealed its future LTE markets, they will likely follow the rollout path of HSPA+. In order to switch on HSPA+ AT&T needs enhanced backhaul—fiber or microwave links—which any LTE deployment will also require.


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