AT&T to launch LTE Sunday, Sept. 18

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AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will launch its first five LTE markets this Sunday Sept. 18, AT&T CFO John Stephens said during an appearance at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Entertainment & Communications conference.

AT&T said in May that it will launch LTE service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The company expects to deploy LTE across 70 million POPs in 15 markets by year-end.

AT&T has seeded the market with LTE devices prior to the launch. The company began selling its first two LTE devices--the USB Connect Momentum 4G modem and the Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G, both made by Sierra Wireless--on Aug. 21. The devices are available for $49.99 and $69.99, respectively, with a two-year contract after a $50 mail-in rebate. AT&T also said that its HSPA+ USB modem, the USBConnect Adrenaline from LG, could be upgraded to LTE starting Aug. 26 via a software update.

In addition, the company recently launched its first LTE tablet, the HTC Jetstream, for $700 with a two-year contract or $850 without a contract. It has said it plans to launch its first LTE smartphone by year-end. 

In August, AT&T revealed that it will charge $50 for 5 GB of data for its data-only LTE devices; it did not reveal potential LTE smartphone data pricing. 

John Stankey, the president of AT&T's business solutions unit, said in late May that field trials of AT&T's LTE network on its 700 MHz spectrum show that it is delivering real-world speeds "consistent with those that have been given by the top competitors." Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has said its LTE network delivers real-world downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbps and uplink speeds of 2-5 Mbps.

Verizon, which first launched LTE service in December 2010, said its LTE network now covers more than 160 million POPs, which is more than half of the U.S. population. The network is available in 143 markets, and Verizon expects to cover 175 markets and 185 million POPs with LTE by year-end.

During the appearance today, Stephens also touched on some other hot-button AT&T topics. Stephens said that 45 percent of AT&T's total smartphone customer base, or 15 million customers, are on usage-based smartphone data plans. He also said one-third of them, or about 5 million, are on the $15 for 200 MB plan, and two-thirds, or 10 million, use the $25 for 2 GB plan. The pricing structure continues to drive feature phone customers to smartphones, he said, but is also leading to increased postpaid average revenue per user.

Additionally, Stephens said AT&T remains confident that its proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA will be approved by regulators, despite a lawsuit from the Department of Justice seeking to block the deal. He said while AT&T is fighting the lawsuit in court, it remains open to negotiating a settlement of some kind with the Justice Department.

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