AT&T Needs To Get 4G Rolling To Keep Up


According to the IntoMobile blog, AT&T could launch its 4G LTE service in New York City at the end of June and in Los Angeles a few weeks later. If accurate, that could be welcome news for iPhone users in New York in particular, who've long complained of dropped calls and spotty service on AT&T's network.

The nation's No. 2 wireless carrier has said it will roll out LTE service in major markets by mid- to late 2011. Verizon Wireless has gotten the jump on AT&T when it comes to LTE, rolling out its own 4G service that already covers 45 cities so far, including New York and L.A., and expects to reach 175 cities by the end of 2011. But so far, neither Verizon nor AT&T offers a 4G version of the iPhone.

The latest version of the Apple device isn't expected until September, and speculation is that a 4G version of the upcoming iPhone 5 won't arrive until next year. During Verizon's first-quarter earnings call, CFO Fran Shammo said the carrier's next iPhone would be a "world phone," suggesting it could be compatible with the GSM wireless network technology most common worldwide. Whether that means it will also be 4G-ready isn't clear.

Whenever the 4G iPhone and iPad become a reality, it's important for AT&T to have its LTE network up and running in iPhone-centric markets like New York and San Francisco to be able to compete with Verizon. Since Verizon got the iPhone in February, tests have shown users have experienced fewer dropped calls than AT&T iPhone customers.

Verizon's reputation for reliability took a hit recently after its 4G network suffered an outage that lasted more than 24 hours late last month. The company has also come under criticism for not adequately explaining what caused the problem.

So far, Verizon's adoption of the iPhone hasn't had a serious negative impact on AT&T's own iPhone business, with the carrier selling 3.6 million units of the Apple handset in the first quarter, up by 1 million from a year ago. Defections from AT&T to Verizon were minimal. Even so, that could change if AT&T is still behind in offering 4G service in key cities when a 4G-capable iPhone comes out. Because with an alternative iPhone available, AT&T customers will be able to do more than complain about lousy service.

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