Don't look for a slew of 4G LTE phone announcements out of the AT&T camp anytime soon. Instead, the carrier plans to devote the next few months to building up its LTE network.
Speaking at a Oppenheimer Technology and Communications Conference today, Peter Ritcher, senior vice president for AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, indicated that the company still expects to launch its 4G network in five markets--Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio--in the next few months, with plans to cover 15 markets by the end of the year.
Instead, AT&T will initially offer two 4G LTE-ready devices, a laptop card and a hot-spot device. As far as handsets are concerned, AT&T's first LTE-ready smartphone likely won't arrive until closer to the end of the year. Though not the news you probably want to hear, releasing a number of products early for a nonexistent network simply doesn't make much sense.
Also, while Verizon might be moving quickly in growing its 4G LTE network, customers must rely on the carrier's EV-DO backup connection. This can prove to be especially painful in the event of poor coverage or an outage. On the other hand, AT&T subscribers should find the secondary HSPA+ network to be considerably faster.
I'm all for building the network up first and then releasing products to support the service. For all the power and speed that comes with Verizon's 4G phones, I likely won't be able to take advantage of the network for some time. My market (Canton, OH) will probably not see 4G LTE deployed for at least another six months, maybe longer. I'm in no hurry to spend $299 for a smartphone marketed around its super-fast data connection if I have to drive at least one hour to enjoy it. If AT&T can build the new network quickly enough, I'm content waiting for a multicore Android handset that won't cost me an arm and a leg. What do you guys think?