AT&T Announces LTE Phones, Says 2/3 of Markets Have HSPA+

October 31, 2011

AT&T’s game of catch-up in the Long Term Evolution (LTE) networking game took a big leap forward today with the announcement of two LTE-capable smartphones for AT&T, Android-powered offerings from HTC and Samsung. AT&T also announced the addition of the next markets to get LTE service, a list that includes Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Athens, Ga.

Though the LTE advancements are welcome for a nation looking for more high-speed networking what may be more significant to AT&T customers is a claim that the company says it has now completed the software and backhaul improvements to support its HSPA+ flavor of 4G over two-thirds of its coverage area, meaning that AT&T no longer has to call out its 4G markets like it did earlier this summer. When you now go to the AT&T 4G coverage map the only “new” markets highlighted are the ones with LTE or about to get LTE; there is no longer any pop-up distinction for the 4G HSPA+ coverage, like the map had earlier this year.

Though AT&T still won’t publish a list of HSPA+-enabled markets — we are still asking company spokespeople to point us to one, if one exists — our guess is now that the LTE launch is finally underway AT&T doesn’t have to play its we’ll-call-anything-4G game anymore. We’d still like to see a coverage map with more honesty, however, with actual tower locations and expected coverage speeds. But we’re not holding our breath.

Sprint Jumps Into 4G Tablet Lead

June 6, 2011

Sprint HTC EVO View 4G, at CTIA. Credit: Sidecut Reports.

Sprint jumped into the unofficial 4G tablet market lead Monday by announcing a June 24 availability date for the HTC EVO View 4G, the slick device that Sprint and HTC announced back in March at CTIA. While the form factor of the device doesn’t break new ground the data plans do, especially the fact that Sprint’s truly unlimited amount of 4G data downloads means that heavy data users — those who use their tablets to watch a lot of video, for instance — may want to gravitate toward Sprint’s offerings instead of those from other vendors, who impose strict caps or data-speed slowdowns.

While Sprint’s new data plan structure for tablets and pads is sure to cause some customer confusion (there are several different rates for different amounts of monthly data available via the device’s 3G connection), there is no confusion around Sprint’s 4G data usage metering — under all circumstances users still get real unlimited data use on the Clearwire WiMAX network that Sprint uses for 4G services. The new HTC tablet itself, with a 7-inch touchscreen, is priced at $399.99.

The HTC View launch, in our mind, puts Sprint ahead of 4G rival Verizon, even though Verizon has been selling the “4G capable” Motorola Xoom tablet since earlier this year. However, Verizon has whiffed on its promise to make the Xoom 4G enabled in 90 days and is now only saying that the no-cost upgrade to support connection to Verizon’s 4G LTE network will happen sometime later this summer. (Even in its recent radio and TV commercials Verizon has been careful to call the Xoom a “4G ready” tablet, whatever that means.)

Sprint also announced today the June 24 availability of the HTC EVO 3D, a phone that has to be seen to be believed for its ability to show 3D images without the silly glasses. Is it something you really need? If so for $199.99 and the standard contracts it can be yours later this month.

Sprint EVO 3D, shown at CTIA. Credit: Sidecut Reports.

CTIA Updates: Verizon on 4G LTE Cruise Control

March 30, 2011

Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead at CTIA keynote panel. Credit: Sidecut Reports.

Whether by luck or by design, the decision by Verizon Wireless to basically do nothing public at last week’s CTIA show worked out perfectly, leaving the nation’s top wireless carrier (for now) looking unruffled, unworried and pretty much unconcerned about the pending acquistion of T-Mobile by Verizon’s biggest competitor, AT&T.

It is somewhat understandable that Verizon took a break at CTIA — after all it’s had a pretty busy news schedule for the start of 2011, what with its over-the-top LTE device announcement at CES in January followed by the “We’ve got the iPhone” gymnastics in early February. Still, by not having any public event at CTIA Verizon didn’t have to spend time on its own stage answering questions about AT&T or T-Mobile. Instead, Verizon execs like wireless CEO Dan Mead got to play it cool whenever they were asked about the pending deal, as if there were a corporate edict to simply shrug and look unconcerned whenever the topic came up.

Mead’s reluctance to say anything at all about the AT&T deal, much less denigrate it in any fashion, is perhaps borne a bit by necessity — should Verizon want or need to do a deal of its own in the future, it doesn’t want any hypocritical comments out there. So for Big Red the big wireless show was all about execution and talking as much as they could about their 4G LTE network, which finally got its first smartphone just before the show opened up. (And that device earned a quick rave review from the notoriously tough Walt Mossberg, more good news for Verizon and HTC.)

For the rest of 2011, it looks like Verizon is in full execution mode as it tries to sell consumers and business users on the merits of its 4G implementation, even though the plans associated with the network only allow “unlimited” use via the phone handsets so far, and not through bandwidth-crunching devices like tablets or USB modems for laptops. The only announcement the company made during CTIA was to more clearly list all the small cities that will get LTE service sometime in 2011, a year during which Verizon should overtake Sprint and Clearwire in the number of markets served by a true 4G service.

That’s a lot of blocking, tackling, and tower-site building, so perhaps Verizon can be excused for being so boring at CTIA. Mead, for one, could only ironically thank motormouth Jim Cramer for being a Verizon customer, and stayed out of any verbal jabbing with his CEO counterparts Dan Hesse of Sprint and Ralph de la Vega of AT&T Mobility during their joint panel session. The most stirring things said by Mead were straight promo stuff, like this line — “This is the most robust network in the world. We’re proud of this LTE network.”

Not the kind of thing to grab a headline, but for Verizon that’s not what CTIA was about. Instead, it’s about building success on top of the 4G network they have already launched, and making it live in more places with more devices. Not a bad kind of boring, from many points of view.