Stateside race to LTE

01 December 2011 | Judy Reed Smith

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, when Steve Jobs opened wide the doors of mobile device potential, Stateside wireless competition has been a tough game of differentiation via smarter handsets and better networks to run them on.

Despite massive mobile network investment, the chief differentiator among postpaid network providers pursuing high-ARPU customers has been handset deals, with partnerships for exclusivity or first-to-market windows, and the busting of those partnerships, driving short-term perceptions of wins and losses in an industry riding high on insatiable demand.

With the Big Three stateside providers now tapped in to all major device streams, the pendulum of differentiation is swinging back towards network reach, network performance and 4G LTE deployments – and marketing around these networks.

While 4G became a key marketing term in 2010, with T-Mobile claiming the nation’s largest 4G network, Sprint claiming its WiMAX network was the only “real” 4G network in the country or Verizon touting its LTE deployments, all providers claimed superiority.

Now that LTE is centre stage, the “true” edge goes to Verizon, which is way ahead of the field. Verizon will remain ahead on LTE even if AT&T closes the T-Mobile deal, as T-Mobile plans to wait until 2014-15 to possibly partner for LTE deployments.

Verizon’s LTE reaches the greatest number of users across the widest footprint with more than a dozen rural LTE partnerships to bolster its significant presence in US metros. By this reading, it will serve 175 markets and, with successful voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) trials completed, will engage in a commercial VoLTE roll-out in 2012.

AT&T has already boosted services for data hungry customers with nationwide HSPA+, also considered 4G by the International Telecom Union definition, will open 15 LTE cities by the end of the year, and will roll out VoLTE in 2013. Clearwire, which is 55% owned by Sprint and rushed to market in 2009 and 2010 with 4G speeds via WiMAX – perhaps a flawed decision – announced that it also will implement LTE, starting with its current 4G urban markets, with the aim of enhancing its new pure play wholesale strategy.

For consumers, whatever the technology, they just want speed, quality and no dropped calls. For carriers, however, all this activity translates to increased bandwidth for LTE roll-outs and the additional backhaul needed to support them.

Judy Reed Smith is CEO of ATLANTIC-ACM. She can be contacted at: