AT&T Fires First Salvo at ‘4G’ CES: LTE Network and Phones Coming Later in 2011

LAS VEGAS — Any doubts that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show would be all about 4G wireless were eliminated the morning before the official show opening, when AT&T used the backdrop of a developer conference to announce a new, accelerated deployment schedule for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network and to show off new LTE smartphones from Motorola, HTC and Samsung that are scheduled for delivery in the second half of 2011.

AT&T’s somewhat unexpected LTE announcements came a day before Verizon’s well-promoted LTE marketing blitz, which will begin with a CES keynote kickoff from company majordomo Ivan Seidenberg who is scheduled to announce a blitz of LTE smartphones, tablets and assorted devices and partnerships. Sprint, whose Clearwire-powered WiMAX 4G network is already up and running in Las Vegas, is expected to provide more details on new 4G devices, and “4G” newcomer T-Mobile also has a network press conference scheduled for Thursday here in Las Vegas.

While AT&T had been skeptical last year that LTE products and services would be available in 2011, that tune had changed significantly when a very excited Ralph de la Vega (president and CEO of AT&T Mobility) bounded onto the stage at the Palms Casino and told attendees that AT&T would launch LTE services “by the middle of this year.”

AT&T further wrapped itself in the 4G flag by proclaiming both its forthcoming LTE service and also its currently-being-deployed HSPA+ network technology as being “4g,” thereby fully muddling the marketing-moniker waters. AT&T said it will launch 20 “4G” devices during the year, including an unnamed LTE tablet from Motorola alongside the three devices highlighted Wednesday: The Motorola Atrix 4G, the HTC Inspire and the Samsung Infuse. While you can gorge yourself on the specs of the devices another news nugget was revealed in a post-presentation discussion with Kris Rinne, AT&T senior VP for architecture and planning, who told us that AT&T’s LTE implementation will use both the 700 MHz spectrum as well as the AWS spectrum Ma Bell has on hand.

“We’ll do a 2×10 MHz channel [implementation] at 700 MHz and a 2×10 on AWS,” said Rinne, acknowledging the need for big chunks of spectrum to make 4G work. The LTE phones will also have another radio to handle HSPA+ connectivity — “which makes the middle of a year a good time to launch them,” Rinne laughed, no doubt anticipating the big job ahead to produce devices with multiple high-powered radios.

Neither Rinne nor any of the AT&T executives who spoke during the presentation offered any details on the really important stuff — meaning where the services would be available, how much they would cost and what the data-download limits would be — but that’s what CTIA will be for, right? Much much more 4G news tomorrow, so stay tuned!

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