Countdown to 4G: Who's Doing What, When

As the iPhone has shown, carriers are going to have to upgrade their mobile networks to handle the increasing amount of data traffic that will come from users surfing social networks, YouTube and heaven knows what else while on the go. Just please don’t do it while driving. So for those reading about the promise of 4G networks such as LTE or mobile WiMAX, here’s a look at each carrier’s launch plans and when (or if) you can expect to see up to 100 Mbps down on your mobile network.

  • AT&T: The nation’s largest network in terms of subscribers, AT&T plans to use LTE to upgrade to 4G, but not for a long, long time. For now it’s content with its current 3G network. A spokesman wrote via email, “Our HSPA network has the potential to hit theoretical peak speeds more than five times faster than AT&T’s current 3G speed ranges.” When it does upgrade, it will be to HSPA+ in 2009 and 2010. Eventually it will go to LTE, but won’t begin testing until 2010 or 2011 with full deployment coming after that.
  • Verizon Wireless: Verizon is already testing LTE equipment from several vendors, with plans to roll out the network in 2010 and have most of the country covered by 2012; Verizon’s would likely be the first full U.S. deployment of the LTE technology.
  • Sprint-Nextel: The outlier in the whole transition to 4G, Sprint is going with WiMAX rather than LTE. After a number of delays, the company is set to launch its network in September. By the end of the year it will join with Clearwire to operate a nationwide WiMAX network under the Clearwire brand.
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile is still launching its 3G coverage, so its 4G networks may take a while to come to fruition. The carrier’s German parent appears to favor LTE, but T-Mobile USA could not be reached for comment.
  • Metro PCS: This budget carrier plans to use LTE, according to its statements on an earnings call last week, but it doesn’t yet have a time frame for deployment, pointing out that its customers aren’t heavy data users yet.
  • U.S. Cellular: The company is unsure of its deployment plans, but Mark Steinkrauss, a spokesman for the carrier, said it would likely choose to follow the rest of the industry with LTE. As for deployment, the time frame isn’t set. “Traditionally we have not been the first to roll out new technologies and would be more of a smart follower, carefully deploying the new technology to ensure that we always offer the very best network experience,” Steinkrauss says.
  • Leap Wireless: Didn’t return my emails for comment, but recently said it had not made a decision or public comment about its 4G plans.
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