AT&T launches LTE service in San Francisco and New York City

AT&T (s T) has turned on its 4G LTE service in 11 new markets, including New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but that expansion may not be quite as large as it appears. The new commercial launches bring AT&T’s LTE coverage to 74 million people, just 4 million more than its end-of-2011 goal of 70 million. That means AT&T either is under-building its network in these new cities or it missed its 2011 target by a ways.

In New York, AT&T revealed LTE doesn’t cover all of Manhattan, which contains the densest concentration of wireless customers in the country, and is available in only parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. In San Francisco, AT&T said the network is limited to major traffic corridors and the downtown areas of the major Bay area downtowns. AT&T said the expansion in the Bay Area and New York are ongoing, but a quick look at AT&T’s LTE coverage map shows those two metro areas aren’t the only ones to get the partial-footprint treatment. For instance, in Chicago, AT&T has built LTE extensively throughout the northern half of city, downtown and the northern and western suburbs, but left a huge swath of the city’s south side and southern suburbs untouched.

In November, AT&T met its 2011 target of 15 markets, but when it announced plans to begin its rollout in New York, it revealed it was still short of its coverage goal of 70 million. AT&T now appears to have been way off. The LTE service went live Thursday in Austin, Texas; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Oakland,Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix; Raleigh, N.C.; San Diego, and San Jose, Calif., as well as NYC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Unless the coverage in those cities adds up to only 4 million pops, then AT&T is just completing its 2011 rollout five days into 2012.

AT&T's LTE footprint in Chicago (dark blue)

That’s not bad, considering the late start AT&T got off to. But it doesn’t help AT&T catch up to its archrival Verizon Wireless (s vz)(s vod), which has already extended LTE coverage to more than 200 million pops, and is live in 190 cities and towns, compared to AT&T’s 26. What’s more, if AT&T continues its pattern of covering markets partially with LTE, it could find itself at huge competitive disadvantage in the key battleground cities of the U.S.