AT&T casually announced on Thursday that its LTE 4G network will go live this Sunday. AT&T plans to dip its toes into the LTE pool slower than its rival Verizon Wireless has so far. AT&T's LTE network will light up in just five markets initially, with a total of only 15 scheduled to go live by the end of the year.
If you're a resident of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio consider yourself blessed because you get AT&T's LTE first.
What can you do with it?
Last month, AT&T announced the first batch of LTE gear: an LTE mobile hotspot and an LTE laptop dongle. (Sorry smartphone addicts, there are no LTE smartphones yet.)
The devices, both made by Sierra Wireless, are the USBConnect Momentum 4G (dongle) and the Elevate 4G (hotspot). The Momentum 4G costs $49.99 and the Elevate 4G costs $69.99, both requiring a new two-year contract.
Both devices include a slot for microSD cards, support for GPS, and support for both Windows and Apple computers. The Elevate 4G has a 1.77-inch LCD display for access to device information and supports up to five connected devices for up to five hours.
As far as speeds go, AT&T hasn't officially released any data on what customers can expect. All AT&T has given us is a cryptic statement that says its LTE 4G service will be "comparable" to Verizon's LTE 4G network. Verizon Wireless advertises 5-Mbps to 12-Mbps downloads and 2-Mbps to 3-Mbps uploads via its LTE network. Is AT&T's that fast? We just don't know yet.
The Momentum 4G and Elevate 4G can also fall back to Category 14 HSPA+ (max of 21-Mbps downloads under optimal conditions) when LTE isn't available. They are already available. AT&T also said earlier this year that the USBConnect Adrenaline can be updated to LTE via a firmware update.
If you're not interested in the dongle or hotspot, there's always the HTC JetStream to consider. This LTE-equipped tablet went on sale recently and is a solid Android tablet.
Key features of the JetStream include a 10.1-inch WXGA HD display, dual-core 1.5-GHz SnapDragon processor, an 8-megapixel main camera with autofocus and dual-LED flash, and a user-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chatting (over Wi-Fi only). The JetStream runs Android 3.1 Honeycomb, but includes HTC's Sense user experience overlay (similar to that of the HTC Flyer/View 4G). It ships with Adobe Flash and can both playback and capture 1080p HD video content. Not a lot of tablets can make the same claim.
As for LTE smartphones, AT&T says they won't be available until the end of 2011 at the earliest. Instead of using LTE for awesome 4G smartphone tasks, AT&T hopes that business users will take advantage of the dongle and hotspot to reduce strain on the 3G network. AT&T is also waiting for LTE handsets to mature. (Battery life is still an issue, for example.)
LTE data plans for mobile broadband devices will cost $50 per month for 5 GB. Overage charges will come in at $10 per GB over the 5-GB limit.
The bottom line here is that if you already use one of AT&T's data-only products, now is a good time to upgrade to the latest gear. If your market isn't covered by AT&T's flavor of LTE, it will be eventually. AT&T hasn't specified what markets will be next to receive its LTE upgrade.
AT&T plans to have 15 markets and 70 million people covered with LTE by the end of the year.
By way of comparison, as of today Verizon Wireless's LTE 4G network is live in 143 markets, covering more than 160 million people.
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