What We Still Don’t Know About LTE: Pricing, Speed, Availability

With each passing day, we are getting closer to the planned launches of Long Term Evolution services from the leading U.S. providers, Verizon and AT&T. But since the actual ship dates are still at some undetermined future point in time, executives from those companies are caught in a bit of a no-man’s land — they need to start publicizing their 4G plans now as to not appear behind competitors, but they also don’t want to show their cards on details like pricing and availability before they absolutely have to.

What does that leave us with? With some not-so-informative interviews like the ones that have popped up in the past week or so, a couple with Verizon’s Anthony Melone and one with AT&T’s Ralph de la Vega in which the execs are let off the hook by either not being asked any tough questions, or by not actually answering the tough questions they were asked. Unfortunately for the audience of potential 4G services users, we are no more informed about LTE now than we were before the interviews, especially when it comes down to the money questions of how fast, how much, and where and when can I get it.

For Verizon, the responses by its wireless-division’s executive VP and chief technology officer “Tony” Melone are nothing but positives — in this breezy Q-and-A with Network World, the exec gets to spin everything in a Verizon fashion, with news nuggets like “I’m happy to report that we’re ahead of where we thought we’d be as far as site readiness goes.” While there’s nothing in the Network World interview that Verizon hadn’t said before, in a subsequent talk with the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) Melone is quoted as saying Verizon would have LTE handsets by mid-2011, which the story claims is “about six months earlier than the company had said before.” While both stories touch on the fact that Verizon will need to use its 3G network to support voice calls for LTE users, that’s not news to anyone who has been following LTE developments.

The fun thing to watch over the next year may be to compare the aggressively LTE Verizon with AT&T, which is downplaying its move to LTE by citing the lack of available devices. So while Verizon is chipper about having a handset by mid-2011, on the other hand you have AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega telling Fierce Wireless that it doesn’t think LTE devices will be available so soon:

With LTE, we think that there will be a lack of devices in the short-term. Our deployment is designed around those devices, so our network will come at the time when the devices are available.

What the two big providers do have in common is a desire to ditch “unlimited” data plans for their forthcoming 4G services, a problem WiMAX providers like Clearwire aren’t facing. While we’ve already talked about AT&T’s attempts to promote pay-per-bit plans, Verizon’s Melone echoed Verizon CTO Dick Lynch by calling for an end to all-you-can-eat data plans (which, as Karl Bode over at DSL Reports notes, Verizon has actually never offered). Quoting from the Wall Street Journal story:

Plans offering “as much data as you can consume is the big issue that has to change,” Mr. Melone said.

Looking forward to hearing more about LTE plans at CTIA!

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