4G: Marketing the iPhone & Other Matters

8:25 PM -- You might have noticed that most of the major U.S. operators -- and a regional player, too -- have all recently added new towns and cities to their 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployments or plans.

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) said Monday that it will be in more than 100 cities with LTE in the coming months. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) now has LTE in 60 cities and promises 100 by year's end.

Verizon Wireless now blankets 75 percent of the U.S. with LTE. It plans to be in 400 markets by year's end.

Even regional operator C Spire debuted its LTE network in Mississippi on Sunday. McComb, Brookhaven, Meridian and Greenville, all in Mississippi, are the first of 31 markets that are receiving C Spire’s LTE services between now and the end of October. (See C Spire Picks AlcaLu for LTE Deployment and C Spire Beats T-Mobile to the iPhone 4S.)

Now, you could look at this as a big carrier push ahead of the rumored unveiling of the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone 5 this Wednesday. The device is expected to support LTE this time, a first for an Apple smartphone, which could affect the operators' LTE marketing and strategy.

Certainly, a true 4G iPhone will be a big motivating factor for operators to update their networks. Some users will certainly be looking to browse Facebook or upload videos faster in as many areas as possible, and they could base their buying decision purely on that factor.

If that's the case then, right now, Verizon wins hands down. It has hundreds more towns and cities covered than any of its competitors at the moment. So why would other carriers even bother?

Well, consider the comment made by Sprint CFO Joe Euteneuer back in March when he was asked at a Barclays conference if the operator would be at a disadvantage if Apple launched an LTE iPhone this year. (See Sprint, the LTE iPhone & 4G Plans.) "When you think about our LTE, we're talking about being at 100 [million] to 120 million PoPs by year-end, which are all the major metropolitan markets," Euteneuer said. "If you make the assumption that they launch a device at a similar time that they did last year, you're basically done with the major markets."

There you see the AT&T and Sprint strategy laid bare. Reassure your customers -- and potential customers -- that they will be able to get 4G LTE service in their cities and other major metro areas.

Sprint will also, no doubt, focus on the fact that it is the only carrier to offer unlimited data for the iPhone, while AT&T will stress that it has a faster 3G network -- marketed as 4G -- for customers to fall back on when they are out of the range of LTE. (See What We Mean When We Say '4G'

One problem for Sprint, though, is that it doesn't seem to have many Californian cities ready for LTE launch. I saw Los Angeles on its list but no Oakland, San Francisco or San Diego. New Jersey is also not represented, according to a reader. Seems like a couple of major urban coverage gaps there.

Meanwhile, Verizon has 75 percent of the country covered and is pushing into rural areas, too. As we've mentioned before, this strategy makes sense from Verizon's standpoint, because they get to downplay expensive DSL service in favor of LTE with services like Home Fusion. (See Will Verizon Abandon DSL for Mobile Broadband? and Verizon Downplays DSL in FiOS Markets .) That has to be Verizon's strategy with the iPhone or any new 4G device really. Play up the fact that it has a much more broad LTE footprint than anyone else and encourage rural cord-cutters -- or people still on dial-up -- to consider LTE as a broadband option.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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