AT&T (s t) hasn’t yet rolled out LTE service yet, but it’s coming soon. So too are the devices that can use the upgraded network, the first of which AT&T has announced on Tuesday. The Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G is a pocketable hotspot, while the USBConnect Momentum 4G is a USB data stick for laptop computers. Both will fall back on AT&T’s HSPA+ network in the case of inadequate LTE coverage. AT&T expects to bring LTE service to 5 markets this summer and an additional 10 markets by year-end, covering 70 million people with faster data speeds.
Both new devices will be available “this summer” and support Microsoft Windows (s msft) and Mac OS X (s aapl) computers. The hotspot device, $69 with contract after $50 mail-in rebate, offers a nice-looking 1.77-inch display and can share its mobile broadband connection with up to five devices. The screen shows the battery status, signal strength and data usage. For $20 less (after contract and with mail-in rebate), consumers can opt for the USB stick, which looks noticeably larger than others I’ve seen: AT&T says the dimensions are 2.6″ x 1.02″ x 0.51″. AT&T hasn’t yet announced any details on LTE pricing plans for either device.
While AT&T has taken a slower path to delivering LTE than Verizon Wireless (s vz), it is promising to see that devices are ready and waiting for the new network. It’s also good that Mac support is available from day one, something that Verizon took time to add to its first LTE devices. I’m also keenly interested in something that has challenged Verizon: How seamless will the handoffs be between the 3G and 4G network?
My suspicion is that AT&T’s experience will be better for one key reason. Instead of transitioning between completely different types of networks, AT&T is dealing with two GSM-based networks: HSPA+ and LTE. In contrast, Verizon’s LTE device must hand off between EVDO and LTE, which are completely different technologies. Although it will take time for AT&T to catch up to Verizon in terms of LTE coverage, the 3G/4G handoff experience may be a key decision point for consumers.