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4G/3G/WiFi

When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway?

Here's a question I don't see asked too often, but it's worth asking: How much of a town or city needs to be covered with LTE before a carrier can call it a live 4G market?

I ask because there's a rash of releases today from AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Wireless about expanding LTE coverage in various cities where they have previously launched the 4G technology. We'll see a lot more of this -- especially from the big two -- as they flesh out LTE coverage and capacity in existing markets.

So, is there a standard measure to say when a market is covered enough to be considered live and ready? Certainly, I've never really got a solid answer to that question.

U.S. carriers typically use the FCC's Cellular Market Area (CMA) list as the guideline for the markets launched. There's a wide variance, however, in what areas might be covered in an initial market launch.

For instance, RootMetrics found in May that, while T-Mobile US launched LTE in Las Vegas with over 60 percent coverage, AT&T and Verizon had been going back to the Nevada market and layering in more coverage to hit 99 percent. They didn't, however, launch in Vegas with such blanket coverage.

Sprint, meanwhile, in 2012 was straight up about its strategy of lighting up markets as soon as it had "street-level" coverage in an area and then returning to add more depth.

Depth of capacity and coverage may seem like less of an issue than the raw speeds of 4G right now. That won't always be the case, however, as pure 4G voice-over-IP applications will require coverage and capacity to deliver service up even to the not-so-hot standards of mobile calls over 2G and 3G networks today.

So -- in the rest of 2013 and well beyond -- expect to see plenty more releases touting "expanded coverage" of LTE networks in towns and cities where the technology is already live.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

VitesseSemiconductor 7/22/2013 | 9:25:05 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? You make a good point; today's 4G LTE rollouts are focused mainly on coverage, but what happens when enough people have LTE-enabled devices flooding these networks simultaneously? Insufficient capacity. Small cells will be key to any carrier's strategy to increase both network coverage AND capacity.
milan03 7/17/2013 | 7:24:16 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? Oh totally. Another problem with Sprint is that they're not transparent. Hardly hear their CTO talking good stuff.
DanJonesLRMobile 7/17/2013 | 7:21:49 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? They do actually seem to go back and fill in gaps after though. Sprint's whole LTE strategy looks a bit hinky now. Witness the T-Mobile folk laughing about them being in Manhattan, Kansas, not Manhattan, NYC last week.
DanJonesLRMobile 7/17/2013 | 7:19:56 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? Good point, I'll ask them what they've got in that regard.
milan03 7/17/2013 | 6:51:57 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? I've seen Sprint's markets "officially" launching at under 30% covered, which is ridiculous.
MordyK 7/17/2013 | 5:07:22 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? From a customer's point of view its important to know how a carrier will service their usage patterns, so comparison coverage maps from the likes of RootMetrrics or OpenSignal can be extremely valuable in that regard.
Sarah Thomas 7/17/2013 | 4:48:15 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? hah. We have to pick our battles. I'd rather we all agree on what 4G (and 5G and LTE-Advanced) actually is, rather than fight where it is...
DanJonesLRMobile 7/17/2013 | 4:19:44 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? Not even sure the old FCC CMAs are fully followed now, so good luck with standardizing on coverage. I'd start a crusade but I don't feel like tilting at windmills right now :-)
Sarah Thomas 7/17/2013 | 4:01:40 PM
re: When is a 4G LTE Market Really Covered, Anyway? That's a good question. It's hard when every carrier reports it different -- markets versus cities versus PoPs versus people covered. We need to standardize the reporting!
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