Verizon Wireless will use this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as the coming out party for its 4G wireless network.
While many people have been crossing their fingers for news of a Verizon iPhone at CES, the big news from Verizon will likely be the company's announcement of several new 4G wireless products, including at least four handsets and a tablet PC, all using Google's Android operating system.
The carrier, which is the largest wireless operator in the U.S. in terms of subscribers, launched its highly anticipated 4G wireless network in December. But for the past month, the company has only sold laptop cards for the super fast network, which uses a next-generation networking technology known as Long Term Evolution, or LTE.
All that will soon change on Thursday when Verizon's CEO Ivan Seidenberg takes the stage to deliver a keynote address at the CES show. Later that afternoon, the company has scheduled a press conference, where news of the new devices is expected to be unveiled.
Specific details of devices to be announced have started trickling out. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the company will announce 4G smartphones from Samsung Electronics, Motorola, HTC, and LG Electronics.
CNET's Android Atlas reported last month that the company is expected to announce the dual-core LG smartphone and the HTC Thunderbolt at CES. Both these smartphones are LTE-ready. Motorola is also expected to announce the Honeycomb tablet PC, which is also expected to run on Verizon's 4G network.
All of these new devices will use the Google Android operating system. Verizon Wireless has forged a strong alliance with Google, selling its Android-powered phones for more than a year now. In fact, its Droid smartphones from Motorola, Samsung, and HTC are its main line of attack against AT&T and its exclusive deal with the iPhone.
Despite rumors of a Verizon iPhone, it looks like Verizon plans to maintain its close ties to Google. Rumors have circulated for months, that Verizon will get a version of the iPhone once the exclusivity with AT&T ends early this year. Some have speculated that Verizon may announce the new Verizon iPhone at CES, but most experts suspect Apple will hold its own event early this year to make the announcement.
Verizon's 4G push powered by Android devices, clearly solidifies the carrier's strategy to continue selling Google Android devices along with an Apple product.
It's unclear when Verizon will begin selling the Android 4G smartphones and tablets or the iPhone, for that matter. The Wall Street Journal cited sources that said the new Android 4G phones won't be available until midyear. But in an interview with CNET in October, Verizon Chief Operating Officer Lowell McAdam indicated that 4G handsets would be on store shelves by the end of the first quarter of 2011.
Getting 4G smartphones on the market quickly is critical for Verizon as it competes with rivals also touting a faster 4G network. Verizon is already facing competition from Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, which each claim to offer 4G service.
In terms of speed, Verizon's LTE service is ahead of the pack. It offers average download speeds between 5 megabits per second and 12Mbps. Sprint's WiMax network built by Clearwire claims to get between 3Mbps and 6Mbps average download speeds. And T-Mobile USA, which is using HSPA+ technology, says it is getting between 3Mbps and 7Mbps average download speeds.
Sprint and T-Mobile already offer smartphones that take advantage of the speedier network. While the market for 4G is still rather small, the potential is huge. Consumers are already clamoring for faster networks to surf the mobile Web, download more apps, and stream rich media such as video and music. And they want to do it on their smartphones.
Sprint has seen success with the HTC Evo, its first 4G device introduced in mid-2010. It offered consumers their first taste of a 4G experience on a mobile handset. It introduced its second 4G smartphone later in the year. T-Mobile also has two "4G" phones on the market: the G2 and the myTouch.
While these carriers are much smaller than Verizon, they still present a threat. More importantly, Verizon needs 4G handsets in the market to combat AT&T, which will launch its 4G LTE network midyear.
Even though AT&T is somewhat late to the 4G party, the company still claims to have the fastest wireless network in the market with the widest footprint. Indeed, about 80 percent of its network supports HSPA+, the same "4G" technology that T-Mobile has used to build its network.
Currently, Verizon's 4G network is in 38 markets and offers service to about 110 million potential subscribers. AT&T claims it offers HSPA+ service to 250 million potential users today. Its LTE service will initially offer service to between 70 million and 75 million customers.
Sprint and T-Mobile also are expected to make 4G product announcements at CES. But it's clear that Verizon and its slew of 4G smartphones and tablets will be the biggest news in mobile for CES.
CNET will be live-blogging both the Verizon keynote speech on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. PT and the press conference later that day at 1 p.m. PT. So stay tuned this week for more details.