Verizon commercial hammers rivals' LTE footprints

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) is taking its competitors to task in its latest TV ad by touting its extensive LTE footprint--which far outpaces its rivals' coverage--though critics note the operator's campaign doesn't take into account competing high-speed networks.

Verizon's new "Easy Choice" commercial purports to show focus groups held Aug. 22, 2012. Members of the group are shown a presentation comparing Verizon's LTE coverage to other national operators' LTE coverage. After being told that "4G LTE has the fastest speeds," group members are asked which network they would choose. Group members not surprisingly select Verizon, which has the world's largest LTE network and tops all of its top U.S. rivals in LTE coverage comparisons.

The 30-second ad wraps up with, "It doesn't matter how you present it. Verizon. More 4G LTE coverage than all other networks combined."

The commercial says Verizon had 371 LTE markets. Verizon has said it intends to serve 400 markets by year's end, meaning it has only 29 more markets to light up to reach that goal.

Curiously though, Verizon's ad gives Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) undue credit for having 25 LTE markets, when, in fact, Sprint last week upped its LTE coverage to only 19 cities. Similarly, AT&T's website says it has LTE in 53 markets, but Verizon's add gives it credit for having 69 LTE markets.

Nonetheless, critics are assailing the ad because it says nothing about the HSPA+ networks operated by AT&T (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA, the latter having no LTE markets as of yet.

"Verizon's newest marketing spot is definitely taking some cheap shots at T-Mobile's nonexistent LTE network," said TmoNews.

Despite not having LTE, T-Mobile has noted its HSPA network outperformed Verizon's LTE network in download speeds in 11 markets in PC Magazine's Fastest Mobile Networks test. T-Mobile has said its HSPA+42 network with enhanced backhaul provides LTE-like speeds, and independent tests have measured average downlink speeds on T-Mobile at around 8 Mbps. T-Mobile intends to roll out LTE next year as part of an overall network modernization and spectrum refarming initiative.

Verizon and AT&T advertise average downlink speeds of 5-12 Mbps on their LTE networks. AT&T's LTE network delivered faster average download speeds than any of its competitors in PCWorld's 13-market speed tests, whose results were released in April.

Sprint advertises average downlink speeds of 6-8 Mbps on its new LTE network, which just went online in July.

U.S. 4G advertising has routinely mixed apples and oranges, with disparate wireless networks being given the 4G moniker. Advertising for LTE may be raising consumer awareness of that technology, however.

A recent study by Parks Associates revealed that nearly 50 percent of U.S. smartphone users consider 4G/LTE access "very important" when choosing a mobile service provider.

"Operators such as AT&T and Verizon are building consumer awareness around 4G/LTE by touting the benefits of the technology. Carriers need to capitalize by experimenting with new mobile data pricing plans and offering new LTE-supported value-added services," said Jennifer Kent, amobile research analyst with Parks Associates' .

However, in a survey of 3,000 individuals polled by investment firm Piper Jaffray, 47 percent said they feel they don't need 4G LTE, and another 26 percent indicated they feel all 4G network technologies are the same, according to AppleInsider. Further, a mere 15 percent of those polled said 4G LTE is the best network technology, and 51 percent indicated they do not know who has the best 4G network or that all 4G networks are the same.

The main conclusion from such mixed survey results is that all U.S. mobile operators have their work cut out for them when it comes to driving demand for the pricey LTE networks they are rolling out. And Verizon no doubt hopes its latest commercial gets the company's message across better than some of its earlier LTE ads, which were mocked quite infamously by Saturday Night Live.

For more:
- see this TmoNews blog post
- see this Parks Associates release

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