Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has quietly switched on initial LTE service in major metropolitan areas such as New York City, San Francisco and Washington D.C.
Pockets of Sprint LTE coverage recently popped up in areas of San Francisco, and The Verge confirmed with Sprint that service has been coming online in that city as well as in neighborhoods across New York, Washington D.C., and the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa.
Engadget said its tests of Sprint LTE network speeds in San Francisco revealed peak downlink speeds on the new--and uncongested--network of 16.7 Mbps and uplink speeds of 9.4 Mbps. Industry vendor OpenSignal recently ranked Sprint Nextel's LTE network in third place behind AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) on the data speedometer, with Sprint's LTE download speeds averaging 7.7 Mbps. Sprint markets its LTE network as delivering average downlink speeds of 6-8 Mbps.
Sprint has been conducting unofficial LTE soft-launches across the United States for several months, encouraging customers with LTE-compatible devices to use the new service before its commercial launch in those markets.
Sprint now officially offers LTE in 58 cities, has started construction in more than 450 cities and expects LTE will be available in nearly 170 additional cities over the coming months.
The carrier fell behind in its LTE rollout and expects to cover 200 million POPs with LTE by the end of 2013, a goal significantly lower than Sprint's earlier expectation of having 250 million POPs covered with LTE by the end of the year. However, the operator is learning from doing and says it is on track to launch cites more quickly going forward. Sprint has been launching five to 10 LTE markets a month since last summer, according to internal correspondence.
Meanwhile, rival operator T-Mobile USA is reportedly preparing to introduce devices compatible with its planned LTE network. Earlier this month, the TMoNews blog announced T-Mobile will launch a handful of LTE devices in March. The blog has since snagged an alleged photograph of one of the devices, the "T-Mobile Sonic 2.0 Mobile HotSpot LTE," and reports the device is expected to arrive in retail stores on March 27.
It is unclear whether T-Mobile expects to launch LTE concurrently with the rollout of compatible devices, or is merely seeding the market with end-user products prior to officially launching LTE service.
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