Verizon Wednesday laid down some important markers that AT&T and T-Mobile will try to match or best when they launch their own LTE networks next year.
In the first place, Verizon has set the bar pretty high in terms of initial 4G coverage. Whereas Sprint and Clearwire started rolling out their 4G WiMAX network in Baltimore and have spent the last two years launching 4G coverage on a city-by-city basis, Verizon is launching its LTE network in 38 major markets over the next month alone. Verizon estimates that its network in these markets will cover roughly one-third of the U.S. population and will also be available to travelers who are spending time at 60 airports around the country. The carrier plans to have its entire current 3G footprint upgraded to LTE by the end of 2013.
Verizon has also set expectations in terms of what data speeds users can expect. Verizon says users can expect between 5M and 12Mbps on the downlink and around 2Mbps on the uplink. Even if the network only averages 5Mbps on the downlink for users, it will be well in line with Sprint's WiMAX network, which averaged between 2.5M and 4Mbps at its inception. Verizon says latency on its LTE network will be half of what users currently experience on its 3G network.
In terms of plans and pricing, Verizon so far has committed to two capped data plans: a $50 per month plan that offers 5GB of data consumption and an $80 per month plan that offers 10GB of data consumption. While users will be allowed to go over their monthly limits on both plans, Verizon says it's going to charge users $10 per GB of extra data consumed. Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone said the carrier would send users text alerts when they reached certain monthly data thresholds and will alert them when they have consumed 50%, 75%, 90% and 100% of their monthly data allowance.
And finally when it comes to devices, Verizon is initially only offering two different types of LTE USB modems for laptops. Both modems will cost about $100 and will require signing a two-year contract. When asked if the company plans to offer any no-contract plans on its LTE network in the near future, Melone said he wasn't sure. He said Verizon will be announcing its first LTE-based smartphones this January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and consumers could expect to see LTE phones hit the market by mid-2011 at the latest.
4G technologies such as LTE and WiMAX represent the next stage in the evolution of wireless data technologies and generally deliver average download rates of 3Mbps or higher. In contrast, today's 3G networks typically deliver average download speeds about one-tenth of that rate. Until today's Verizon LTE announcement, Sprint had been the only major carrier to offer 4G services in the United States as its WiMAX network has been up and running commercially for more than two years. Rival carriers T-Mobile and AT&T are expected to launch LTE networks of their own sometime next year.