AT&T: Our LTE phones will be thinner, more efficient (scoop)

AT&T's mobility chief executive, Ralph de la Vega, tells CNET that the company's 4G LTE phones will be based off of new technology that drains less energy.

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Ralph de la Vega delivers his keynote address at the CTIA Enterprise & Applications show today. Roger Cheng/CNET

SAN DIEGO--AT&T's lineup of 4G LTE smartphones will be thinner and more power-efficient than current devices on the market, Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T's wireless and consumer unit, told CNET today.

The company's first 4G LTE smartphones, which will launch in the fourth quarter, will use a new technology that allows for phones with a slimmer profile that last longer without a recharge. The availability of the technology drove the timing of the phones' release.

"We had to wait longer, but we think it's worth the wait," de la Vega said in an interview.

The phones will use a technology that de la Vega refers to as circuit-switch fallback. It allows the phone to run on the 4G network and fall back to the traditional circuit switch-based 3G network when it's out of the coverage area. That's different than the 4G LTE phones offered by Verizon Wireless, which use separate 4G and 3G radios that each require their own power source, fueling the need for a larger body.

AT&T will need every edge it can get as it looks to break into the 4G LTE market, which is currently dominated by Verizon Wireless. AT&T recently launched its 4G LTE service in five cities; Verizon Wireless said today it plans to expand into 13 more cities to reach more than 175 by next month. AT&T has so far offered a USB card, wireless mobile hot spot, and a tablet for use on its 4G LTE network.

Verizon, meanwhile, has five 4G LTE smartphones available, with more expected to come. While the network speeds have been impressive, the consistent knocks on the devices have been their bulky size and inability to hold battery power. The HTC Thunderbolt, which was Verizon's first LTE phone, can barely last a workday in standby mode. While subsequent phones, such as the Samsung Charge, have made some strides in efficiency, they remain power-hungry.

The 4G LTE phones have been a boon to Verizon's growth. It was just as responsible for driving new subscribers as the iPhone and is expected to be a catalyst when the company reports its third-quarter results later this month. AT&T is hoping to get some of the same benefits with its own 4G LTE phone lineup.

The technology allows for a natural fallback between LTE and AT&T's older-generation network standard, known as HSPA. It's unclear whether the LTE and EV-DO, which is what Verizon is using at its 3G network, have the same compatibility.

Verizon, for its part, focused on its early roll out of 4G LTE.

"We have a year's lead deploying 4G LTE, to more than half the country, already with a dozen great phones, tablets and other devices. As with any new technology, the capabilities and functionality of these devices is rapidly improving. We have a track record of 4G LTE performance excellence that speaks for itself."

De la Vega, meanwhile, said AT&T would be the first company to offer next-generation smartphones using CSFB technology.

"We made a conscious decision to go with this," he said. "We think it's a better approach."

Updated at 9:38 a.m. PT: to include a response from Verizon Wireless.