Smartphone and tablet makers added one vital element to many of the products they announced this year at the Consumer Electronics Shows: support for LTE 4G mobile broadband networks. It's safe to say that 2012 is going to be the year that LTE 4G gains widespread adoption.
Here's what we saw:
AT&T -- AT&T's LTE network covers about 75 million points of presence (POPs) across 26 markets right now. More are on the way, and AT&T introduced a huge number of new LTE devices that can play on its speedy 4G network.
Some of the smartphones for AT&T's LTE network that hit the show floor at Las Vegas this week include the HTC Titan II; Nokia Lumia 900; Pantech Burst; Samsung Galaxy Note, Exhilarate, and Galaxy S II Skyrocket HD; and Sony Ericsson Ion. AT&T also announced the LTE-packing Pantech Element tablet.
With the largest number of new LTE devices announced at the show, it is obvious AT&T has big plans for 4G this year.
[ Why do so many of these LTE Android smartphones run an old operating system? See Android 4.0 A No-Show At CES. ]
Sprint -- Sprint made some waves by announcing its first LTE markets. Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio will be the first markets to have access to Sprint's forthcoming LTE 4G network. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said LTE will reach those markets by the middle of 2012.
In addition to the network plans, Sprint announced three future LTE devices: the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the LG Viper, and a mobile hotspot made by Sierra Wireless. Sprint's LTE network has yet to launch, but the company is making progress with its Network Vision project, and these announcements are the proof.
Verizon Wireless -- Verizon's LTE network is the most expansive in the U.S. so far. (In fact, it was vital to my work in Las Vegas this week, outperforming AT&T's 3G network by a mile.) Verizon's LTE network blankets more than 200 million Americans across 190 markets.
Verizon announced three LTE smartphones, an LTE tablet, and two new LTE mobile hotspots. The Droid 4 and Droid RAZR MAXX, both from Motorola, bring LTE 4G to the smartphone table, as does the LG Spectrum. On the tablet side, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 boasts LTE, too. The two mobile "Jetpack" hotspots are supercharged with fast 4G broadband and can support up to 10 devices over Wi-Fi.
MetroPCS -- Even prepaid carriers are excited about LTE. MetroPCS's LTE network is tiny, and is being used to supplement its lack of a real 3G network rather than to conquer its mobile broadband foes. But that doesn't discount the fact that it's LTE, and MetroPCS is offering it.
MetroPCS bowed two new LTE smartphones, the LG Connect 4G and the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G. Both phones offer Android and LTE 4G at an affordable price point.
Yes, I think 2012 will be the year of LTE.
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