After months of hype, Verizon Wireless has announced that it will launch its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network on Sunday in 38 markets and 60 airports, covering more than 110 million people, the company said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The new network will offer download speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second, and upload speeds of 2 megabits to 5 megabits per second – more than ten times faster than current data speeds, offered by T-Mobile USA’s and AT&T Inc., where their 3G networks have been upgraded to the highest speeds.
Tony Melone, senior vice president and chief technical officer at Verizon Wireless promised that the new network would deliver superior performance. With this faster network, users will be able to download 20 photos in 60 seconds or a two-hour movie in five minutes, the company said.
The first devices to use the new network will be USB wireless data modems for laptops and are expected to appeal primarily to business customers and technology early adopters. However, Verizon Wireless will announce up to five new smartphones capable of running on the network at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
In a surprise, Verizon is charging less for 4G than for 3G. One data plan will cost $50 per month for 5 gigabytes of data, compared with $60 for 3G. Another plan will provide 10 gigabytes of data for $80 per month.
Tony Melone said he expects many customers will find 5 gigabytes isn’t enough. When downloading at top 4G speeds, it takes about an hour to exhaust a monthly allotment of 5 gigabytes of data.
“Verizon appears poised to go aggressively to lock up 4G subscribers,” said Dan Hays, a director for consulting firm PRTM who has worked with major U.S. carriers in the past. “I think we’re [also] going to see Verizon price [its smartphone plans] aggressively.”
Only Windows PCs will be able to take advantage of the network, at first. On Sunday, Verizon will start selling a USB dongle from LG Electronics Inc. for $99 with a two-year contract. It will fall back on Verizon’s 3G network where there is no 4G coverage. There’s no Macintosh software for the dongle yet.
Verizon had already revealed where the network will be available first. The coverage areas include the cities on the Boston-to-Washington stretch as well as in California, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Seattle.
The next-generation Verizon Wireless data network will launch in 38 U.S. cities and more than 60 airports this year. That includes many of the country’s most populated areas, allowing the 4G network to cover 110 million Americans, says Verizon, the largest U.S. cellular carrier by subscribers.
T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel, which have both launched newer, faster versions of their data networks, didn’t immediately reach the largest cities, but they do now.
Verizon is using a 4G, or “fourth-generation,” wireless technology called Long-Term Evolution (LTE) that looks set to be an industry standard. Sprint Nextel Corp. subsidiary Clearwire Corp. already has an active 4G network that uses a different standard, WiMax.
However, what all of these so-called 4G networks have in common is that they don’t meet the technical specification for a real fourth-generation network. But these high-speed wireless networks are the best mainstream ones we have in the United States.
“We’ve heard a lot about 4G around the industry,” Melone said. “This is the real deal. This is a brand-new network from the ground up that was built side by side with our current 3G network.”
He continued: “It’s based on the current technical standards. It is rich in mobility. It will provide the launching pad for the future of mobile broadband.”
Ina Fried from Wall Street Journal’s tech blog All Things Digital asked Melone: “How will Verizon handle voice and data simultaneously. (LTE supports it but 3G doesn’t.)”
“One of the reasons why we are not going out with voice out of the gate is it creates complexities that don’t serve anyone,” Melone answered.
He continued that Verizon’s plan is that initially voice-only calls will be placed on the 3G network, while data sessions will be on 4G when both are available. Eventually, both will move to LTE.
All three carriers – even Verizon, before its announcement on Wednesday – have ramped up advertising efforts for their respective 4G networks.
In the Verizon commercial, the carrier claims to have “the most advanced 4G network in the world.” T-Mobile says it has “America’s largest 4G network.” Meanwhile, Sprint boasts to have “Evo, the first 4G phone” – referring to the Android smartphone from HTC.