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

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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. [digg=]

  • 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.

40 Responses to “Countdown to 4G: Who's Doing What, When”

  1. I would like to point out that metro pcs probably doesn’t have many customers using data since their network is slow and some of the phones aren’t as tech savvy as others for browsing. Which is why I hate to switch but I will most likely move to sprint. Metro PCS has come a long way since it started a while back but still needs to improve. I hope that whoever is reading this can relay the following message back to Metro, “Make the internet browsing experience better as your competitors and I can assure you that you wont have much of a problem out of it”

  2. @ Chris Nelson:

    Actually your information is incorrect due to the fact that the merger is not completed yet, and there is not guarantee that the government will not step in. While most believe that the government will not block this, it is still incomplete, thereby making AT&T the largest.

  3. Chris Nelson

    @ Stacey:

    Your information is not correct, AT&T is not the largest subscriber base in the US, that position is held by Verizon, as they purchased Altel months ago. Altel is also involved in the LTE conversion, as they run on the Verizon network Natively, and use smaller networks as you get into more rural areas where Verizon’s coverage does not reach.

  4. Unlimited data plans, the iPhone, the proliferation of mobile internet applications, on-the-go accessibility of sites like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace — these and other factors have created 10-15% monthly growth in data traffic for many tier-one wireless networks. It seems that carriers consider the upgrade to 4G networks as the ultimate solution for their bandwidth management issues. This view is tenuous at best. Using dynamic, adaptive optimization technology will enable carriers to scale capacity and performance on any network, ensuring a positive user experience, driving data usage and increasing ARPU, while enhancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of network operations.

  5. Stacey Higginbotham

    Paul, it is U.S. only, but perhaps I’ll look across the Atlantic after a few days of R&R. Europe appears to be mostly LTE, although Vodafone was planning on using HSPA+ for a while before upgrading. Not sure about WiMax in Eastern Europe, though.

  6. @Stacey

    Things are moving fast in this field but I doubt we can mention LTE or Wimax as 4G (IMT-Advanced) technologies. Maybe LTE-Advanced and Wimax 802.16m but clearly not LTE nor Wimax (802.16e).

    The ITU-R group has published some details on the whole submission & evaluation process for 4G technologies (link


    I think most of the european operators will go the LTE and/or LTE-Advanced way. Little chance for them not to go LTE way.