AT&T (NYSE:T) has cast its 4G LTE coverage net a littler wider. The nation’s No. 2 wireless cell phone operator is now offering 4G LTE service in 12 new markets, including St. Louis, Missouri; Naples, Fla.; Bloomington, Ind.; and Cleveland, Ohio. Those markets join Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Washington D.C.; and New York, among others.
The 4G LTE standard, billed as the fastest offered by wireless carriers in the U.S., allows Internet access at average data rates of 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) on downloads and 2 to 5 Mbps on uploads. Amid demands for increased data capacity and transmission speed, LTE has become the desired broadband platform standard for mobile services and devices. All major U.S. wireless phone operators are adopting LTE (long term evolution) technology because faster response times tend to attract more customers who want to use their mobile devices for social networking and for streaming high-bandwidth items such as movies and music files.
AT&T’s LTE expansion is welcome news to its customers, but the company’s LTE capacity still lags significantly behind that of Verizon (NYSE:VZ), which still has the largest 4G LTE network in the U.S. Based in New Jersey, Verizon currently offers LTE in 196 cities to more than 200 million customers, including many of the new markets where AT&T recently introduced LTE service. By comparison, AT&T provides LTE coverage to about 74 million customers, while Sprint (NYSE:S) and Deutsche Telekom’s (PINK:DTEGY) USA T-Mobile have yet to offer any LTE connections to their customers.
Catching up to LTE
Sprint said it plans to offer 4G LTE service in Baltimore; Kansas City, Mo.; Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; and San Antonio by midyear. T-Mobile customers won’t get 4G LTE coverage until sometime next year, after the carrier brings into service the $1 billion worth of high-speed wireless data service that it inherited after AT&T’s bid to buy T-Mobile the failed. T-Mobile, which has the nation’s largest 4G network – but no LTE upgrade as of yet — doesn’t expect its LTE rollout to be complete until 2014, a year after the other carriers complete their 4G LTE build-outs.
Verizon’s current 4G LTE footprint, meanwhile, may be enough to help it become the preferred data services provider for owners of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) new iPad, the retina-screen-display tablet that will be released on March 16, has already sold out on preorder, and is compatible with 4G LTE. The Wireless Federation, an industry research group, points out that those iPad owners who sign with Verizon for data services will be allowed to turn their iPad into a Wi-Fi hot spot, to which other devices can connect for Internet access. That’s something iPads sold through AT&T won’t do, although AT&T is working with Apple to offer the feature.
Despite wireless carriers’ claims about 4G performance, though, access to 4G coverage doesn’t guarantee the fastest access to the Internet if the network is jammed with data-hungry customers. 4G network wireless customers also may have slower download speeds if they are in areas that only have 3G coverage.
One resource for consumers looking for insight into the level of service offered by carriers serving their area is CellReception, a website run by mobile-services review site Mobiledia that features an interactive map offering details about carriers’ coverage in certain areas as well as subscriber feedback on that coverage. Click here for a look at the CellReception home page.