Verizon begins filling the gaps in its LTE network

Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) plans to launch 27 new LTE markets on Thursday and has been expanding its mobile broadband footprint in cities where it already offers 4G services. All of that activity won’t amount to much when it comes to new people covered – roughly 9 million people over the 200 million with which it ended 2011 – but it’s long past the point where it can achieve any big gains by throwing up networks in big cities.

Verizon is targeting smaller markets and closing the remaining gaps in its already existing metro footprint, bringing LTE service to regions so far overlooked by mobile broadband and providing more consistent and persistent data connections to areas that already have access to it. According to Verizon spokesman Tom Pica, Verizon is adding more LTE cell sites in big and small cities, expanding its existing metro footprints to incorporate outlying suburbs and exurbs and adding coverage along highways between nearby cities and towns. In some cases, it’s filling in gaps between cities entirely, creating dense clusters of 4G coverage, particularly along the Eastern seaboard.

Those efforts have already begun to show in its recent network speed tests. In an analysis for GigaOM, mobile testing firm RootMetrics found that while AT&T’s LTE network has begun to surpass Verizon’s in overall average connection speeds, Big Red’s NETWORK is providing far more reliable access to LTE than AT&T in 15 cities surveyed.

With the 27 new markets, Verizon will have LTE in 230 metro areas and towns, Those, coupled with its recent upgrades in 44 existing cities, will officially put it over the two-thirds population coverage mark. Verizon doesn’t plan to stop there, though. By the end of the year, it plans to have 4G whirring away in 400 markets, covering a total population of 260 million.

The markets launching Thursday are: Auburn and Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Pine Bluff, Siloam Springs and Van Buren, Ark.; Visalia/Porterville, Calif.; Fort Walton Beach and Ocala, Fla.; Brunswick, LaGrange and Macon/Warner Robins, Ga.; Peoria, Ill.; Kokomo/Logansport and Marion, Ind.; Dodge City, Garden City, Great Bend and Hays, Kan.; Salisbury, Md.; Cattaraugus/Allegany, N.Y.; Sandusky, Ohio; Ardmore and Ponca City, Okla.; Salem/Albany/Corvallis, Ore.; Pierre, S.D.; and Big Springs and Tyler, Texas.

The markets receiving expanded LTE coverage are: Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, Sacramento, Salinas/Monterey, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo and Stockton, Calif.; Colorado Springs and Fort Collins/Loveland, Colo.; Sarasota/Bradenton, Fla.; Boise/Nampa, Idaho; Carbondale/Marion and Rockford, Ill.; Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Ind.; Des Moines, Iowa; Boston and Worcester, Mass.; Detroit, Mich.; St. Louis, Mo.; Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.; Manchester/Nashua, N.H.; Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M.; Buffalo/Niagara Falls and New York, N.Y.; Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; Portland, Ore.; Providence/Pawtucket, R.I.; Nashville, Tenn.; El Paso, Texas; Provo/Orem and Salt Lake City/Ogden, Utah; and Olympia/Centralia and Spokane, Wash.