4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise

CHICAGO -- 4G World -- AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) may appear to be behind in deploying Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, but a senior VP speaking at the show this morning insisted that slow and steady will win the race.

Verizon Wireless expects to launch its first two LTE markets sometime early in 2010. MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) said Tuesday that it is now planning an initial launch in the second half of 2010.

And AT&T? Kris Rinne, SVP of architecture and planning, said in her keynote this morning that AT&T will begin trials of the technology next year with initial commercial launches planned for 2011. There's more to an LTE launch than just deploying a network, she told the crowd.

"Are we going to be left behind by our competitors as we roll out LTE?" she asked rhetorically. "I would contend 'no.' As I've said before, it's not just about speed, it's about the whole customer experience." So, those commentators feverishly anticipating an LTE iPhone in 2010 -- from either AT&T or Verizon -- will likely be left whistling for it. (See LTE Phones Will Lag Behind Networks .) "No doubt there will be data cards, but there will be a limited number of devices next year," Rinne said.

In contrast, Rinne is anticipating a pool of 600 or so High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 gadgets to choose from, as AT&T deploys that technology this year and through 2011. The company expects to have six HSPA 7.2-compatible smartphones in its device portfolio by the end of the year, as well as two new laptop cards. (See AT&T to Boost 3G Speeds .) After the 2010 tests, AT&T will deploy its LTE network on 700 MHz and Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum in 2011, eventually migrating to other bands. AT&T's 700 MHz spectrum holdings cover 200 major U.S. markets, or about 87 percent of the population, Rinne said. The carrier is working to ensure that LTE devices are backwards-compatible with 3G, so that users can get connected across the country.

Rinne doesn't anticipate deploying voice-over-LTE until 2012, which might be an indication of when the carrier expects LTE-only handsets to become widely available. The carrier is working on an IMS-based system for LTE voice. In short, AT&T will let its rivals take on LTE's teething troubles, while adding more sites and faster backhaul to improve its 3G speed, coverage, and services. Rinne said she's "well aware" of the backlash against spotty 3G service from iPhone users. The company will be adding more fiber and Ethernet backhaul to try to alleviate bottlenecks.

Offloading traffic from crowded 3G networks is also part of AT&T's plan, whether that means transferring heavy data traffic to a WiFi hotspot or a 3G femtocell in the home. AT&T has become a major hotspot provider already, through the acquisition of Wayport and the addition of thousands of new sites. (See AT&T Buys Wayport for $275M and AT&T Sees Surge in WiFi Connections .)

Rinne didn't say exactly when AT&T would introduce its long-awaited 3G femtocell. She did say that the vendor is still in tests and working on a "location piece" for E911 and other applications. AT&T's executive director for radio access network delivery, Gordon Mansfield, has previously said that the "microcell" is expected before the end of the year. (See AT&T on Track for Femto Launch and AT&T on Track for Femto Launch.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:56:21 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise

Yeah well, welcome to the future, if its good enough and cheap then that's better than expensive and still patchy.

bobg. 12/5/2012 | 3:56:22 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise

Yes, it is not just AT&T a friend of mine uses Verizon and gets plenty of dropped calls in "Good" areas. I use SKYPE from time to time and it is not bad. It is free Skype to Skype and only about $25 a year to any phone in U.S.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:56:23 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise I agree, its often shocking how little voice quality seems to have progressed in all the years of cellular. But that's not just AT&T and I don't expect it to improve to any measurable degree in the years to come. If anything, its likely to get worse as cheap best-effort VOIP becomes more prevelant.
bobg. 12/5/2012 | 3:56:24 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise

Come on Dan. Be honest here. The cell phone industry is not as good as it should be. Costly rates and contracts. Dropped calls, no signal areas even in places they say have strong signals. Then they want you to pay for a device to get a stronger signal that they should already be providing us. You get charged for every dropped call. Is that fair? If your vehicle, Foreign or Domestic ran like the cell phone industry you would be returning it. It is just that we have become dependant on cell phones and they have us where they want us.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:56:25 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise On a basic level, more backhaul should help call capacity. There's more to than that, however, you could be experiencing dropped calls for a bunch of different reasons.
bobg. 12/5/2012 | 3:56:29 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise

So what this means is I will get dropped calls faster.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:56:33 PM
re: 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise

So far, AT&T hasn't said anything about increased capex spend for beefed up 3G network. I wonder if they can keep a lid on spending and still add aditional 3G and backhaul as these seem like reactions to current network issues rather than an item that was already in the budget.

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