AT&T will sell the first devices for its upcoming LTE network on August 21. The previously announced USBConnect Momentum 4G and AT&T Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G will be available online for $49 and $69 respectively, after all rebates and with a 2-year data plan commitment. AT&T has also detailed the plan pricing for the LTE service: $50 per month provides 5 GB of mobile broadband, with each additional gigabyte of service priced at $10. The carrier has plans to offer LTE service in five markets this summer, but has not yet announced a launch date for its new network.
As it stands now, these data devices won’t then be able to use a faster LTE network service. Instead, they will connect to AT&T’s current HSPA+ network where speeds will vary based on location. The carrier has spent much of this year upgrading it’s 3G network to a faster HSPA+ service; the LTE upgrade will bring even faster speeds and allow AT&T to better compete with Verizon, which launched its own LTE network in December of last year. My tests of Verizon’s network show mobile broadband speeds at or above 12 Mbps.
AT&T may not have an LTE network quite yet for its devices, although it’s sure to follow soon. And the operator has a key advantage over rival Verizon: the LTE technology is a flavor of GSM, which AT&T has long used for its network, while Verizon chose CDMA technology. This means that AT&T’s LTE devices will be backwards compatible with the carrier’s current mobile broadband networks; useful for when the devices have to “fall back” to 3G or slower 4G speeds from LTE.
The bigger challenge for both carriers and their speedy new networks is managing consumer expectations. The faster the mobile broadband connection, the quicker consumers will use up their monthly data allowance. Tiered pricing plans are one way to mitigate this, although many consumers have no idea how much broadband different web activities actually use. That leaves the door open to service-based plans that limit use for certain apps or services.