Why won’t Verizon and AT&T compete on even ground with LTE?

Sascha Segan of PC Magazine confirms one of my biggest fears: Although both AT&T and Verizon own 700 MHz spectrum for next-generation LTE networks, different frequencies will be used by the companies. This comes directly from a statement Segan received from Verizon: (s vz)

Verizon Wireless confirmed today that its LTE phones will not “be compatible on other LTE networks in the U.S.” because “the phones will be on different frequencies,” according to Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney.

Even though LTE will eventually support voice and data, consumers won’t be able to seamlessly switch carriers while keeping their phones. That means the U.S. will be no closer to having true mobile broadband competition before the 700 MHz spectrum was auctioned off for 4G networks back in January 2008. The goal of one national network technology using the same spectrum isn’t likely to be met, primarily due to how Verizon (s vz) and AT&T (s t) won’t commit to truly competing head-to-head.

Yes, the carriers will still compete for business, but won’t be doing so with the exact same network frequencies that could allow for simple network switching. That’s different from areas such as Europe, where consumers can buy a handset and then choose service from a number of providers, even changing providers on a regular basis as prices fluctuate.

True competition in this market isn’t defined by offering exclusive handset models, 2-year contracts and slightly different pricing plans. Instead, the two largest network operators should put their money where their mouth is by trying to offer the best prices and network services to attract and retain, not lock-in, mobile customers on an even ground.