U.S. LTE buildout timelines

LTE network technology has taken the U.S. market by storm. Billions of dollars in network upgrades and spectrum have gone into building some of the world's fastest wireless networks. Indeed, Verizon Wireless' LTE network has repeatedly shown some astounding peak speeds in the range of 20 Mbps and higher. And Clearwire's planned TDD-LTE network could provide speeds approaching 100 Mbps.

Thus, it's no surprise that the rest of the nation's carriers are moving as fast as possible to upgrade their networks to offer the faster speeds and enjoy the capacity efficiencies that LTE brings.

Here's where the nation's wireless carriers stand in terms of LTE network buildouts, today and tomorrow. The below list includes the nation's top 10 U.S. wireless carriers, as listed in our quarterly "Grading the top 10 U.S. carriers in the third quarter of 2011" ranking. This list does not include smaller carriers or associations like the NetAmerica Alliance. It is based on public comments made by carrier executives, as reported by Fierce.

U.S. LTE buildouts
  2010 2011 2012 2013 Notes
Verizon Wireless -Launched LTE in 38 major metropolitan areas and in more than 60 commercial airports. (Source) -By the end of this year, Verizon's 4G LTE network will be available in 190 U.S. markets, and will cover more than 200 million Americans. (Source) -Verizon's LTE network will cover two-thirds of the country with LTE by mid-2012. (Source) -Verizon plans to cover its existing 3G footprint with LTE by the end of 2013. (Source) -Verizon currently operates the nation's largest LTE network, offering average real-world speeds of 5-12 Mbps. The carrier recently purchased SpectrumCo's AWS licenses for $3.6 billion to boost its LTE capacity.
AT&T Mobility   --AT&T has said it will have LTE service in 15 markets covering 70 million POPs by the end of this year. (Source)   AT&T said it will launch LTE-Advanced in 2013. (Source)

-The company has also said it expects to complete its LTE deployment by 2013, but has not given specific buildout targets.
-Much of AT&T's LTE plans hinge on its planned $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile, but that deal appears to be falling apart. Analysts generally agree AT&T could pursue a network-sharing agreement with T-Mobile as an alternative to a purchase.
Sprint Nextel    

-Sprint plans to launch LTE in 5X5 of the G-Block of the 1900 MHz band, covering 123 million POPs by the end of 2012. (Source)

-Sprint plans to deploy LTE service on its 800 MHz spectrum starting in 2012 and plans to launch its first LTE handsets in the second half of 2012. (Source)

-Sprint will launch LTE-Advanced Release 10 in a 10x10 configuration on its 800 MHz spectrum in 2013. (Source)

-Sprint said it will cover 250 million to 277 million POPs with LTE by the end of 2013. (Source)

- Sprint said it expects to launch devices, including laptop cards and phones, that will utilize Clearwire's TDD-LTE network in 2013. (Source)

Following Sprint's agreement with Clearwire, the company's LTE buildout plans became much more clear. Further, if Sprint's teaming with LightSquared pans out, Sprint could built LTE across at least 800 MHz, 1600 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2.5 GHz.
T-Mobile USA -T-Mobile covered around 200 million POPs, spanning 100 markets, with its HSPA+ 21 network. (Source)

-T-Mobile said its HSPA+ 42 footprint will cover 163 markets and nearly 180 million POPs by the end of this year. (Source)

-T-Mobile said its HSPA+21 footprint now covers 208 markets and 200 million POPs. (Source)

    T-Mobile's current LTE plans hinge on AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile. But if AT&T's purchase falls through, as many now expect, T-Mobile does have options including a possible teaming with Dish Network.
Clearwire   -Clearwire's WiMAX network covers 130 million people in more than 70 cities across the U.S. (Source)   -Sprint said it expects to launch devices including laptop cards and phones that will utilize Clearwire's TDD-LTE network in 2013. (Source) -While Clearwire hasn't detailed its TDD-LTE buildout plans, the company's recent agreement with Sprint likely will make the network a reality. Clearwire has said its initial TDD-LTE buildout will cover much of its current WiMAX footprint.
MetroPCS -MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) launched its LTE service in Las Vegas in 2010, giving the flat-rate, prepaid carrier claim on the first commercial LTE launch in the United States. (Source) -MetroPCS' LTE network covers 14 markets. (Source)
The company is also testing Voice over LTE technology. (Source)
    -MetroPCS' current LTE buildout appears largely finished, but MetroPCS has indicated it is interested in some kind of transaction with Clearwire.
U.S. Cellular   U.S. Cellular has said it expects to cover around 25 percent of its footprint with LTE by the end of 2011. (Source) U.S. Cellular has said it will cover another 25 percent of its footprint by the end of 2012. (Source)    
Leap Wireless   Leap plans to launch an LTE trial market in Tucson, Ariz., this year. (Source) Leap said it plans to cover a total of 25 million people with LTE by the end of 2012. (Source)    
C Spire   C Spire has said it plans to launch LTE by the end of this year. (Source)      
Dish         Although Dish hasn't committed to a buildout timeline, the company's application at the FCC promises a "substantial terrestrial network deployment" using LTE-Advanced network technology (source) in its 40 MHz of S-band satellite spectrum in the 2 GHz band.
LightSquared     LightSquared plans to launch commercial service in an unspecified number of major markets in the second half of 2012 via 10x10 MHz channels  in the 1600 MHz band. The company has said its network will cover Sprint's entire current 3G network footprint by 2014. (Source)   LightSquared's buildout plans are contingent on the company addressing GPS interference concerns.


U.S. LTE buildout timelines