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AT&T: Why Our LTE Is Better

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor
12/6/2012
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AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) may have way fewer Long Term Evolution (LTE) markets than Verizon Wireless but the operator's mobility CEO says there is a reason the 4G network has been winning plaudits from Consumer Reports and others recently.

You need enhanced backhaul and the latest LTE technology to get the most speed, Ralph de la Vega told financial analysts at a UBS AG tech conference in New York this week. (See Verizon: Rivals Can't Match Our 4G Reach and Top Five 4G LTE Cities in the US.)

"We’re using the very latest LTE technology where the radioheads are at the top of tower rather than the base of the tower, that gives a couple of extra dBs [for radio transmissions]," he explained. "90 percent of our traffic runs on our enhanced backhaul." (See LTE Will Suck as Long as Backhaul Does.) During the last few years, AT&T has tried moving to fiber-based backhaul for better 4G performance. Three years ago, de la Vega had to admit that the company's networks were "underperforming" for iPhone and other 3G smartphones users. (See AT&T Mobile Boss: NYC & San Fran Are 'Underperforming'.)

This week, de la Vega revealed a little more about the company's planned investments in wireless for the next few years. The company has already revealed that it will install 10,000 new macrocell base stations and 40,000 small cells, with many of these planned to use LTE. (See AT&T Puts Up $14B to Boost Broadband.)

Analysts stated earlier this week that AT&T is also planning to launch LTE-Advanced in the second half of 2013. (See AT&T Plans LTE-Advanced in 2H13.)

Now, de la Vega has revealed that AT&T has further plans to increase 4G coverage density in stadiums, airports and other super-heavy traffic areas. He said AT&T is planning to install an additional 1,000 distributed antenna systems in areas that seem practical for denser 4G LTE coverage.

"That's a critical requirement if you're ever thinking about doing voice-over-LTE for instance," he commented.

DAS systems are a step or two up from small cells. They're typically more expensive to deploy and need more bandwidth from the backhaul. The systems make could sense, however, in stadiums, large malls and convention centers.

Even if customers like AT&T's 4G, however, that doesn't mean they actually like the company. AT&T has ranked last in customer satisfaction in the Consumer Reports survey for the third year running.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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