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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

December 1, 2010 at 9:49 AM

Verizon LTE: $50 for 5 gigs, no phones yet

After all the anticipation about Verizon’s LTE network, consumers may balk at the price.

The ultrafast mobile network will cost $50 per month to transmit up to 5 gigabytes of data and $80 per month for 10 gigs. If users go over, they’ll pay $10 per gigabyte.

LTE phones won’t be available until mid 2011 and no current phones will be able to use the faster network. For now Verizon’s service will only work with two laptop USB modems tha will cost $100, after a $50 rebate and with a two-year contract.

Verizon announced the details at a press conference in New York this morning. It’s launching the service on Dec. 5 in 38 U.S. markets (shown on this map) and 60 airports, but pledged to have nationwide LTE coverage matching its current 3G network in 2013.

LTEmap.jpg

Seattle – where Verizon has been testing the service – is among the first markets served, as is Sea-Tac airport.

The company had said it would launch the faster network by the end of the year. AT&T is launching its 4G network in mid 2011, and T-Mobile and Clearwire – the first carrier to offer true 4G service – are testing the same technology.

Pricing and coverage are the key questions for people interested in 4G data plans. At this point Clearwire’s 4G service seems to have the edge, with 68 markets covered and unlimited data plans ranging from $25 to $55.

Upgrading to Verizon’s 4G service may make the most sense for Verizon’s existing mobile broadband customers. Those connecting tablets, mobile hotspots and laptops are already paying $50 per month for 5 gigs and $80 for 10 gigs over its 3G network. Going to a 4G plan will give them the same service, plus 4G speeds where available.

The LTE USB modem service is actually cheaper than Verizon’s 3G USB modem plans, which cost $60 for 5 gigs, and the same price as its prepaid mobile broadband plans. Here’s Verizon’s mobile broadband plan chart if you want to sort it out yourself.

Verizon’s LTE launch could help clarify what’s really 4G, a term that’s been muddled by phone companies striving to present their products as the latest and greatest. LTE and Clearwire’s WiMax network are technically “fourth generation” wireless networks, thus the 4G designation.

T-Mobile has boosted the speed of its 3G network to achieve comparable speeds and recently began describing its network as 4G. Apple added to the confusion by calling its latest iPhone “4”; it’s the fourth-generation iPhone, but doesn’t have 4G wireless technology.

LTE can theoretically handle dazzling speeds – up to 100 megabits per second – but Verizon today said its subscribers should initially expect real-world download speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second and uploads of 2 to 5 Mbps. It characterized the speeds at 10 times that of its current 3G network.

Clearwire’s Wimax network – which provides the 4G service sold by Sprint and Comcast – offers downloads that average 3 to 6 Mbps with bursts over 10 Mbps.

AT&T sniped at the Verizon announcement in a blog post by its chief technology officer, John Donovan, saying that LTE is going to evolve slowly. In the meantime consumers will be more affected by the performance of 3G networks, where AT&T has been investing to boost performance.

“It’s not sufficiently appreciated that LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It will take a long time for LTE to be deployed broadly,” Donovan wrote.

Expect to hear more details of LTE phones in early January, when Verizon’s boss is a keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show. If the company’s going to carry a true 4G iPhone sometime in 2011, that’s an opportunity to make the announcement.

The two LTE modems now available are also compatible with 3G networks, which they’ll use when out of 4G service areas.

Here’s the list of the 38 metro areas receiving at least some LTE coverage to start. (Click here for an LTE map and Web application with more precise coverage information; street-level coverage maps are coming Dec. 5):

Akron, Ohio

Athens, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia

Baltimore, Maryland

Boston, Massachusetts

Charlotte, North Carolina

Chicago, Illinois

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio

Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, Dallas, Texas

Denver, Colorado

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Houston, Texas

Jacksonville, Florida

Las Vegas, Nevada

Los Angeles, California

Miami, Florida

Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota

Nashville, Tennessee

New Orleans, Louisiana

New York, New York

Oakland, California

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Orlando, Florida

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Phoenix, Arizona

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Rochester, New York

San Antonio, Texas

San Diego, California

San Francisco, California

San Jose, California

Seattle/Tacoma, Washington

St. Louis, Missouri

Tampa, Florida

Washington, D.C.

West Lafayette, Indiana

West Palm Beach, Florida

Comments | Topics: 4G, iphone, LTE

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