Verizon Wireless announced today that it was going to flip the switch on its 4G LTE network on Sunday, Dec. 5, promising wireless data speeds "up to 10 times faster" than its current 3G network, speeds comparable to or exceeding the "4G"-labeled networks currently active from Sprint and T-Mobile.
The network will be available in 38 major metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, as well as smaller markets such as West Lafayette, Ind. and Rochester, N.Y. It will also be available in 60 airports coast to coast, including all major airline hubs. Street-level network availability maps will be released on Sunday at Verizon's 4G website. (For a full list of cities, scroll to the bottom of this story.)
The first 4G devices will be USB modems, the LG VL600 (available Sunday) and the Pantech UML290 (available soon after). Both modems will cost $99.99 with a two-year contract. Verizon won't launch with 4G phones — though given the issues that come with 4G phone ownership, that's probably a good thing. Phones will be available by the middle of 2011. Those devices will presumably be revealed at CES 2011 in Las Vegas, this January.
Although Verizon is not the first to launch a network emblazoned with the 4G label, the carrier doesn't want to be confused with the current 4G providers. "Not all 4G is the same. This is a big deal," said Tony Melone, Verizon Wireless's chief technical officer, during a conference call with reporters. "Android really took off when Verizon Wireless got behind it. The same thing will happen with LTE."
LTE is an acronym for "Long Term Evolution," a wireless data standard developed globally across many hardware companies and carriers. AT&T will roll out its 4G network based on the same standard.
The pricing of the plans will be $50 for monthly access totaling 5 gigabytes of downloaded/uploaded data and $80 for 10 GB. Both will come with a constant overage rate of $10 for each gigabyte of additional use. This price plan is the same as Verizon's 3G connectivity plan for tablets, mobile hotspots (MiFi), netbooks and notebooks, but $10 cheaper than its current 3G USB modem plan.
Though 4G refers to several different technologies, for consumers it generally applies to increased speed, measured in megabits per second. Today, Verizon's 3G network delivers between 1 and 3 Mbps for downloads, and up to about 1 Mbps in an upload. With its 4G network, Verizon is promising 5 to 12 Mbps down and 2 to 5 Mbps up. In contrast, Sprint promises 3 to 6 Mbps down on its 4G network.
Another measurement of network capability is "latency," essentially the responsiveness of the network. Melone says that latency performance of Verizon's 4G network is twice as good as the current 3G network. "It allows us to almost mirror ... the type of latency you experience in a wired network," he said.
Because the LTE network will not be present everywhere that Verizon's 3G network currently exists, the modems will be equipped with the ability to "hand off" the connection from 4G to 3G and vice versa. However, Melone said, when you move from 3G to 4G coverage areas, the modems are programmed to stay with the 3G network until you are done transmitting. Once there is no activity coming from your laptop, the modem will scan and jump to the 4G network, if it's still available.
Melone said the carrier has an "aggressive plan" to cover all of its U.S. footprint by the end of 2013. "This is the future of mobile broadband and mobile communications for the next ten years," he said. "This will make a difference."
Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Initial Major Metropolitan Area Deployment (as of Dec. 5, 2010)
District of Columbia
West Palm Beach
New York City
Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, Dallas