Last Sunday, AT&T finally began rolling out its brand new LTE technology. The initial roll out happened in 5 cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The lucky towns will be the first to get the brand new wireless connection, and access to the features it provides.
LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is the latest advancement in cellphone data technology. With a theoretical limit of 100 Mbps, AT&T claims this new 4G network will bring speeds over 3 times higher than its previous HSPA+ network. The real world speeds are likely to be much lower, but still higher than even what most people get from their home Cable or DSL broadband Internet. This means downloading a movie may be faster on your phone than on your desktop.
To take advantage of this new speed however, you will need a new device which supports LTE. Right now, AT&T has 4 such devices. The USBConnect Momentum 4G and the Mobile Hotpost Elevate 4G are both laptop cards, the USBConnect Adrenaline is a mobile hotspot, and the HTC Jetstream is an Android based tablet. As you can see, there is no phone supported as of now, but AT&T says it will launch its first LTE smartphones by the end of the year. It also says the coverage will expand to 15 markets by year-end.
Many people may wonder why AT&T sold so-called 4G phones when they don’t work on the new LTE network. In reality, those phones, like the HTC Inspire 4G are in fact closer to 3.5G. They work on AT&T’s HSPA+ network, which is completely incompatible with LTE. This means as of now, none of the phones sold by AT&T will work on this new network. You will have to wait for the Holidays to get something that works on 4G, with 10 models expect to be released.
While the new speeds will obviously be nice, and allow users to download and stream HD content, data transfer still remains an issue. AT&T says it’s data-only devices will carry a cost of $50 for 5 GB transfer. The pricing for LTE smartphones hasn’t been announced yet. Since a typical HD movie can be over 1 GB, you still won’t be able to rely on LTE to do a lot of streaming.
As for existing customers with HSPA+ phones, AT&T says while the future is LTE, it intends HSPA+ to serve as a beneficial fallback network, for regions where LTE isn’t available. Of course, it does mean those who choose not to upgrade will not benefit from the higher speeds. The company also only spoke of smartphones for LTE support, so feature phones are unlikely to be brought up to LTE speed.
Also of note, during the announcement, AT&T CFO John Stephens said that the company still hopes to go through with the T-Mobile acquisition, and that it would help customers of both companies. He said AT&T remains open to a settlement with the Justice Department on the matter.