AT&T counters Verizon iPhone with $99 HSPA+ HTC Inspire

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will launch its first HSPA+ smartphone, the HTC Inspire, at the aggressive price of $99 with a contract--a move likely geared to blunt the potential impact of Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) launch of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone.

Click here for HTC Inspire 4G AT&T pictures, specs and details.AT&T--which is labelling the Inspire its first "4G" phone (based on the carrier's recent decision to market its HSPA+ network as 4G)--said it will launch the device Feb. 13 for $99.99 with a two-year contract. The launch date is just two days after Verizon plans to begin selling a CDMA iPhone.

AT&T's $99 price point is notable considering most devices like this initially launch at $200 or more.  The price likely indicates a substantial subsidy investment by AT&T. 

The Inspire was one of the new devices that AT&T touted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January when it laid out its HSPA+ and LTE deployment plans.

The Inspire runs version 2.2. of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, has a 4.3-inch super LCD screen, a 1 GHz processor and an 8-megapixel camera with HD video recording. The device is also the first to support AT&T's Mobile Hotspot application, which allows users to connect WiFi-enabled devices to AT&T's network; the service costs an extra $20 per month. The device also will be the first to use the next generation of HTC's Sense user interface, which gives users the ability to remotely locate and wipe their phones.

AT&T's 4G marketing push appears to be a response to Verizon's LTE network launch, which the carrier has branded as 4G LTE, and T-Mobile USA's decision to market its HSPA+ as a 4G service. AT&T did not say what kind of data speeds users will be able to get on the Inspire. Though AT&T has rolled out HSPA+ network technology to its entire footprint, the carrier has not yet connected the full network to fiber backhaul. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said last week that the percent of the network that currently has fiber backhaul is in the "low to mid 20s," a figure he said will increase to 65 percent to 70 percent of the network by year-end.

AT&T said at CES it expects to introduce an array of new smartphones this year, including 20 "4G" devices running HSPA+ or LTE. Other HSPA+ smartphones in the pipeline include the Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) Atrix and the Samsung Infuse. AT&T plans to  launch commercial LTE service by mid-2011, and will cover between 70 million and 75 million POPs by year-end.

For more:
- see this release, with pictures and specs

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AT&T accelerates LTE deployment, will launch 20 4G devices this year
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