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Not so fast.
LTE - which stands for Long Term Evolution - is a GSM-based wireless data standard that has been adopted by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile as their choice for 4G wireless technology. So far, tests of commercially deployed LTE technology have shown it can deliver average download speeds in the 7M to 12Mbps range, although these speeds are likely to decline once more users subscribe to the services. Along with mobile WiMAX, LTE is part of a new breed of wireless technology that aims to give users a wireless Internet experience that matches or exceeds the speed of most wireline broadband connections.
But you shouldn't sign up for an AT&T or Verizon LTE plan this year and expect ubiquitous coverage ... or anything close. Verizon will have the most LTE coverage by year-end, as the company launched its network in 38 major markets late last year and plans on adding several more in April. AT&T, however, has only said it will launch its first batch of LTE services this summer and has not specified how many markets will be included. Since AT&T is also working on upgrading its GSM-based 3G network to HSPA+ technology this year, you probably shouldn't expect any nationwide launches by AT&T until 2012.
"I don't think AT&T will be as aggressive as Verizon has been," says Derek Johnston, the senior director of marketing at MobileAccess, a provider of indoor mobile wireless coverage. "They've been expanding rapidly but they're also trying to upgrade their mobile backhaul and their antenna networks while also solving multiple issues with their HSPA network."
Raghu Ranganathan, technology director for network infrastructure vendor Ciena, thinks some initial adopters of LTE will be small and midsize businesses located in major markets and that don't have many branch locations in rural areas or cities where coverage has yet to arrive.
"I see that small businesses are not looking for broad nationwide coverage but they are looking for strong local coverage," he says. "When businesses look for a wireless plan, they should focus not only on coverage but also typical upload and download speeds. They may find, for instance, that a network using HSPA+ technology in a certain area can provide them with connectivity that delivers several megabits per second."
In addition to overall LTE coverage, early adopters should also be wary of the service quality they'll get from their LTE services in the first year. While users who subscribe to the technology first will be initially rewarded with high-speed mobile broadband that delivers data speeds of 5Mbps or higher, they're likely to see a drop off in speed as more users in their area begin subscribing to the technology.
Bryan Darr, founder and CEO of wireless coverage research company American Roamer, says LTE won't come close to fulfilling its potential until more wireless spectrum is freed up for use by the Federal Communications Commission over the next five years. Until then, Darr contends, users may not get the high speeds they want from LTE networks on a consistent basis.