AT&T turned on its LTE network in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta on Sunday, marking the operator's first foray into the next-generation mobile broadband technology.
AT&T will expand its LTE footprint in each of the new markets over the coming months and plans to launch in at least 15 additional markets by the end of the year, covering 70 million people. Four devices are compatible with the new service: the HTC Jetstream tablet, the USBConnect Momentum, the USBConnect Adrenaline and the Elevate mobile hotspot.
AT&T kept coy about speeds in its announcement. It said the new LTE network "is capable of delivering mobile broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G," but it did not give specific numbers on average per-megabyte speeds on the uplink or downlink in the press release.
However, a company representative was able to provide some details, reporting that speeds would range from 5-12 Mbps on the downlink and 2-5 Mbps on the uplink in most markets.
The launch of the service provided some clues as to how AT&T plans to differentiate its LTE network from its HSPA+ service, both of which are marketed as 4G.
AT&T began advertising its HSPA+ with enhanced backhaul service as 4G last January in an attempt to keep pace with the marketing of Verizon Wireless' LTE services, Clearwire's WiMAX network and T-Mobile USA's HSPA+ network.
Its new LTE service is also being advertised as 4G, and so far the service's marketing materials indicate AT&T is encouraging its customers to think of the new network as a faster version of 4G from its HSPA+ service. The benefits of the HSPA+ upgrade are also being touted as an advantage over other operators.
"The two complementary technologies mean that customers will have more consistent mobile broadband speeds as they move in and out of 4G LTE areas," the company explained. "Customers of competitors who have transitioned to 4G LTE without further speed upgrades to their existing networks are likely to see a steep drop-off in speeds when they move out of 4G LTE areas."
AT&T will have to work fast to catch up with the lead of rival Verizon Wireless, whose LTE network currently covers 160 million people in 143 cities. It's not clear how AT&T's troubles with its T-Mobile acquisition could impact its LTE deployment; it had planned to use T-Mobile's AWS spectrum for additional LTE capacity, but that strategy would have to be scrapped if the merger falls through.
MetroPCS also offers LTE, but its service runs slower than its competitors because of its limited spectrum resources.