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AT&T Plays Down Verizon's LTE Lead

March 22, 2010

Consumers won't be able to make much use of next-generation wireless networks for another two years, a senior AT&T Inc. executive said Sunday, in comments aimed at blunting the technological lead of AT&T's main competitor, Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, aims to roll out a new wireless technology called Long Term Evolution, or LTE, in at least 25 markets covering 100 million people by the end of the year.

AT&T is also adopting the technology but won't be bringing it on line until next year, raising the prospect of a new network-quality battle while AT&T is still combating criticism that its network has mishandled the surge of data driven by new devices like Apple Inc.'s iPhone.

In a pre-emptive shot, AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan said in an interview Sunday that Verizon may be turning to the new technology before it is fully mature. In particular, he said, it will be some time before developers work out the kinks in handsets able to make use of the faster speeds promised by LTE.

"2012 will be the time when you'll have decent handsets, decent quantity of handsets, and decent choice of handsets," Mr. Donovan said.

LTE-compatible handsets require two antennas, and chip sets are larger than what is currently built into current third-generation, or 3G, devices.

"Right out of the chute, it's going to be difficult to engineer," Mr. Donovan said of the first LTE handsets. "It's going to drain the battery like crazy, and it's going to be a fat brick."

Verizon has said that it plans to start selling its first LTE-compatible handset in the middle of next year, while data cards for laptops will be available by the end of 2010.

Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace said the carrier will continue to roll out the new technology according to plan. "No matter how much our competitors talk, it's not going to slow us down," he said. Mr. Gerace wouldn't comment more specifically on Mr. Donovan's arguments.

Most of the world's major carriers have picked LTE for their fourth-generation technology, but are moving to LTE at a slower pace than Verizon.

Consumers won't see the real benefit of the faster mobile Web surfing and other data exchanges until later, Mr. Donovan argued.

Verizon's new network will have gaps, and customers will have to deal with slower connections when they fall back to older networks, Mr. Donovan said.

Verizon has long made network quality the cornerstone of its appeal to customers. Its advertisements have directly promoted its network as superior to AT&T's. But it's a false comparison, says Mr. Donovan.

"Anyone who says their network is ready for the iPhone—or the broader mobile data explosion that AT&T has experienced—is being naive," he said.

Write to Niraj Sheth at niraj.sheth@wsj.com

Source: By Niraj Sheth, The Wall Street Journal

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Tags: 4G, AT&T, LTE Americas, Verizon Wireless

3Geo: 03/22/10, 12:51 PM
The change to LTE for Verizon is impertive due to the fact that data speeds with the current EVDO Rev1 network being maxed out at about a megabit per sec. LTE will initially be data only, and will lift the roof for data speeds to 5-10Mbps initially. ATT 3G is currently running GSM Hspa 7.2 which has about 3.6 mbps now, and increasing across its entire network before requing LTE for higher throughput. Even GSM HSPA+ promises speeds at about 21Mbps peak, with expectations of 10Mbps average. LTE doesn't and won't for quite some time support voice, so AT&T extending the useful life of the existing GSM 3G network, not forced into LTE until the ecosystem of devices are more plentiful, stable and sustained performance can be expected, including voice and fallback to 3G. All of this puts the monkey on Verizon, who is not very cash rich, to spend like crazy to get up to (literally) speed with GSM type technologies. AT&T has the time, cash position, and experience to time the deployment to match the market opportunity.