Las Vegas – Mobile Broadband Capital of the US
Las Vegas is already a hotbed of mobile broadband offerings and looks set to become the most '4G'-friendly city in the US as 2010 progresses. Glitter Gulch, however, may not be able to hold on to its mobile crown for long. Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle are all likely to offer a wealth of faster wireless data services as we head into 2011.
Here's what's on the all-day wireless buffet in Vegas:
Blazin' 4G trails Some services are already being marketed by US carriers as fourth-generation (4G) wireless -- even if none actually meet the official specifications for next-gen mobile -- that promise data-hungry customers downloads up to 10 times faster than many 3G networks. Las Vegas is shaping up as one of the US cities that will be the proving ground for this new breed of data-intensive wireless service.
MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) is slated to be the first US carrier to launch Long-Term Evolution "4G" service this September. It has been testing LTE in Vegas with Samsung Corp. for months now and the city will likely be the first to go live with the new service, along with Dallas. (See CTIA 2010: The LTE Smartphone Scramble, MetroPCS LTE Net May Launch in September, and MetroPCS Gears Up for LTE.) Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) has offered a '4G' service based on mobile WiMax in Vegas since July 2009. Clear offers customers average download speed of 3 to 6 Mbit/s, with bursts exceeding 10 Mbit/s. The firm offers a variety of data cards, home modems, and even a tiny round WiMax 'hotspot' called the 'Rover Puck' that can support up to eight WiFi devices connecting to its signal. (See Clearwire to Launch in Vegas on 21st and Clearwire Pushes Pay-as-You-Go With Rover.)
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) piggybacks on the Clearwire network to offer its "4G Now" service in Vegas. The operator has two dual-mode WiMax and 3G smartphones that allow users to stay connected even if they're not in an area covered by WiMax. (See Sprint: An Epic Win? and Sprint's EVO Launch Creates Buzz & Mixed Crowds.) In fact, Clearwire lives up to its boast of being "a network of networks" in Vegas. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) also use the Kirkland, Wash.-based operator's network for wireless offerings in the city.
Verizon Wireless 's planned launch of LTE in the fourth quarter, meanwhile, could tip the top wireless broadband city balance back in favor of Boston or Seattle -- the operator's two test cities for LTE -- when the service is launched. Verizon could go live in November with LTE and is expecting to have up to 30 cities online by the end of 2010. (See Verizon's LTE: How Much More $$ Than 3G?.)
LightSquared is the dark horse in the LTE pack. The new Harbinger Capital Partners LP -backed venture wants to launch a wholesale offering LTE over satellite and terrestrial spectrum to other carriers.
LightSquared will launch trial networks in the first half of next year in Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, and Baltimore. The commercial launch of the network is planned for the second half of 2011. (See Harbinger Hatches LTE Challenger in US.)
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), meanwhile, has said that it will start commercial trials of LTE this year with a commercial launch plotted for 2011. Very little, however, is yet known about the operator's test markets and deployment plans.
Faster 3G services A wealth of proto-4G options isn't the only reason, however, that Vegas can claim the mobile crown in the US. The city is also home to the fastest 3G options currently available as well.
T-Mobile US Inc. is cheekily promoting its latest High-Speed Packet Access Plus (HSPA+) 3G network upgrade as offering "4G speeds." Indeed, the 5-to-8-Mbit/s average downloads that T-Mobile says the HSPA+ upgrade can enable rival Clearwire's WiMax service and track Verizon's planned LTE speeds (for now). The 3G upgrade has been available in Vegas since July. (See MWC 2010: T-Mob's 3G Speed Race and T-Mobile's HSPA+ Rivals Clearwire, US LTE Speeds.)
AT&T currently has HSPA 7.2 enabled in Vegas; this offers average downloads in the 2 to 4 Mbit/s range. The operator is planning to move to a HSPA 14.4-Mbit/s upgrade soon but hasn't said which cities will be covered first. (See T-Mobile Leaves AT&T in Its HSPA+ Dust .)
"Late this year, we’re planning a software upgrade to HSPA+, which will enable a speed boost when matched with enhanced backhaul and qualifying devices," a spokeswoman tells LR Mobile in an email reply to questions.
Other options If none of this appeals, Vegas also has a number of free WiFi access points available along the strip and in a number of Starbucks coffee shops around the city. Las Vegas was also one of the first cities to offer free WiFi at the airport through a deployment in January 2005 at McCarran International by Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN). (See Aruba Spews News.)
If you want WiFi in your hotel, however, you'll have to pay. The average cost per day for in-room wireless LAN connections is around $12, according to the latest from the Las Vegas How-to guide.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile