AT&T Promises Superfast 'Blended 4G'

LAS VEGAS -- AT&T 2012 Developer Summit -- The not-so hidden subtext of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s multiple keynotes Monday morning at the Palms is that only Ma Bell can offer users a blend of 4G and fast 3G speeds across the country, even if rival Verizon Wireless has a much larger Long Term Evolution (LTE) footprint.

Both AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega and AT&T CTO John Donovan highlighted this "blended 4G" approach as good for users. For instance, the carrier claims downloads are three times faster on its network, compared with rivals' networks, when using the high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) 3G technology on the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone 4S.

"We're the only U.S. carrier to commit to providing 4G speeds using both LTE and HSPA+ technology," Donovan said during his keynote. He noted that the carrier is making backhaul improvements, moving active radio elements closer to the antenna (RF closer to the user usually results in faster speeds) and adding coverage. Overall, the operator has made 150,000 network improvements since last year, he said.

"HSPA+ call retention has exceeded 99 percent since September last year," he further claimed.

Device springboard
This is the device springboard that AT&T is now playing with: It has 26 LTE markets up -- de la Vega spent some time cooing over the reviews of the service -- and a coast-to-coast HSPA+ footprint to fall back on.

The keynote helped to clarify that Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) are working cheek-by-jowl with AT&T in a bid to break the Windows phone and reverse Nokia's fortunes in North America. Both Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer were on hand to talk up the carrier.

"We will deliver the first Nokia LTE phone to the U.S. consumer via AT&T," Elop told the crowd, although he tried to hold off on the product details. It is an open secret now, however, that Nokia will unveil the Lumia 900 in Las Vegas. (see AT&T Developers Summit: What to Expect.)

High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) CEO Peter Chou was even more effusive in his praise of AT&T's LTE network. He said he uses HTC's new Titan II Windows Phone as his "personal device" and that it is "blazing fast" on the network.

Six new LTE Androids, meanwhile, are coming to the AT&T network soon. These include the Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) Note "phablet" and two cheap LTE devices from Pantech Co. Ltd. , including a waterproof tablet and a smartphone for less than $50.

Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) was also on hand to show off its 3G gaming device, the Playstation Vita, which will launch in North America on Feb. 22. The operator isn't requiring a data contract with this device; gamers can sign up for either 250MB a month at $14.99 or 2GB for $25.

LTE laggards?
All of which makes it surprising that the operator didn't make mention of further LTE deployments apart from the broadest statement of intent. "We're on track to largely complete our deployment by the end of next year," de la Vega said. (See AT&T Turns Up 11 More LTE Markets and New Year, New 4G: At a Glance.)

The message from the conference keynotes seems to be that AT&T is confident that its blended LTE and HSPA+ approach can compete with the 190-market LTE footprint sported by Verizon Wireless.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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