The first 4G network offering came from MetroPCS, this September, and it didn’t feel as world-shaking as Verizon’s recent 4G LTE network launch. The reasons that MetroPCS failed to make such noise is pretty much the fact that it’s a smaller carrier, with just about 8 millions subscribers, whereas Verizon is much larger, with over 90 million subscribers, and nationwide coverage, which MetroPCS still lacks. On top of that MetroPCS offers 4G connectivity at higher prices than Verizon, and in a lot fewer cities (at the time of writing just 7 cities whereas Verizon launched in more than 30 cities, and 38 should be covered by the end of the year).
Possibly the other factor that resulted in poor reception of MetroPCS announcing the availability of its 4G network service, was the generally poor performance of its network. In some cases it was reportedly even worse than some competitive 3.5G offerings. Even though MetroPCS boasts it uses 4G technology, it has failed so far to deliver the speeds associated with a next-gen mobile network, and is largely offering services in what closely resembles a 3G or 3.5G network.
This automatically crowns Verizon king-of-the-hill of 4G offerings in the US, since it is the only working, wide-coverage network that seems to live up to the hype and the promises. But this will only be a temporary arrangement, giving Verizon a head start indeed, but the war is far from over, it has barely begun.
AT&T has announced it will be ready to rollout their own 4G LTE network, sometime in 2011. Since the technology actually used for these 4G networks is actually a layer on top of existing UMTS/HSPA technology (3G, 3.5G), most of the infrastructure is there and AT&T should be able to keep its promise and start offering 4G plans within the next year.
In fact, Verizon has played a gamble by launching its service this year. It is probably trying to get a head start on its competition, as well as take advantage of the holiday season when smartphone and netbook sales are expected to rise significantly, quite possibly boosting sales of 4G plans as well. But if Verizon fails to continue to deliver the high-speeds available at launch time as time goes by and subscribers increase, its competitors will be around the corner, waiting to for the best opportunity to capitalize on any possible failure.
In that respect, AT&T may have exactly that in mind, being wary of entering a new round of market “hostilities” in an industry that has proven so far problematic in some ways. High-speed mobile networks cost a lot of money in infrastructure, and up until now there had been few returns. The emergence of cheap 4G networks combined with the ever-growing prevalence of the smartphone and hand-held devices in general will definitely keep communications carriers on their toes, fighting for more market share.