AT&T's LTE Plans Taking Shape In Slow Motion

LTE Updated: With Verizon (s VZ) planning to launch its first trial LTE network sometime by 2010 and the perceived threat of Apple switching allegiances to an owner of a faster network, you would think AT&T (s T) would get its LTE plans on the front burner. Well, that is not the case — Ma Bell is taking its sweet time transitioning to 4G wireless. It’s only now started trialing LTE equipment — picking Ericsson (s ERIC), Alcatel-Lucent (s ALU) and Huawei as candidates to supply gear for the radio-portion of its LTE network. After the trials, only two would get the business.

UBS Research telecom equipment analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos notes that the inclusion of Huawei in this trial is a big step up for the Chinese vendor that’s been trying to penetrate the U.S. market. It had previously signed a deal to supply equipment to a handful of smaller players, including cable company Cox Communications. According to UBS, Huawei’s share of global communications equipment sales rose to to 14 percent in 2008 from about 2 percent in 2000. In 2008, Huawei had sales of $18.3 billion, up 42 percent over 2007. Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson are betting on seeing a big upside from the LTE buildout. Most global carriers expect to turn on their LTE networks by 2012.

Update from Stacey: AT&T is moving more slowly with its LTE plans, due, at least in part, to the fact that it’s currently upgrading its network to HSPA in several areas of the country. The HSPA network, which requires a software upgrade at the cell towers, will have speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps down. AT&T, like some other GSM carriers, has said it’s in no hurry to move to LTE while it still has the headroom provided by the HSPA upgrade. As a CDMA carrier transitioning to a GSM technology, Verizon is in a better position to make the jump to LTE as quickly as possible.