AT&T to launch LTE by mid-2011

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AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will launch commercial LTE service by mid-2011, and will cover between 70 million and 75 million POPs by the end of next year, a top executive said.

Click here for key slides from Stankey’s presentation.Speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2010 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, AT&T Operations CEO John Stankey said the company is actively working with its primary LTE vendor partners--Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU)--to get the network ready for launch. The company is currently conducting LTE trials in Baltimore and Dallas, Stankey said.

AT&T has said it wanted to wait for the LTE market to mature before moving forward with a full-scale deployment. Stankey said AT&T is working on a different kind of implementation for LTE than other carriers, and needs to carry forward its UMTS services to ensure that voice and data services can work simultaneously on both UMTS and LTE. The company is spending $700 million in capital expenditures on LTE this year and "will go far beyond that" in 2011, Stankey said.

By contrast, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) intends to launch 25-30 commercial LTE markets in the fourth quarter of this year, covering 100 million POPs. Verizon has said it plans to double the number of its LTE markets 15 months after its initial launch this year.

Stankey also touched on AT&T's 3G network. AT&T is readying a nationwide HSPA+ upgrade for this year, which AT&T executives have said will allow the carrier to deliver real-world download speeds of 7 Mbps. In the meantime, the carrier continues to upgrade backhaul to cell sites it has upgraded to HSPA 7.2 technology.

Stankey said he is "never satisfied" with AT&T's network, and that the company is continually working to improve it. He said that by Oct. 1, AT&T will have added 600 additional radio carriers in San Francisco, which has been a trouble spot for the company.

However, Stankey said, AT&T's network upgrade efforts have been hampered by continuing parts shortages from key vendors. He said AT&T is currently dealing with $300 million worth of backlogged network equipment. "We know we need that to deal with capacity," he said. 

For more:
- see these slides from Stankey's presentation

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