Now that LTE is here, what's next?

Coming some day to a network near you: LTE-Advanced and LTE with voice

In its newest TV ads, Verizon Wireless brags that it has "America's largest 4G LTE network" -- an obvious response to AT&T's claim that if offers "the nation's fastest 4G LTE network."

In the continuing war between the nation's two biggest wireless carriers, the battle of late has come down to, essentially, LTE network size vs. LTE network speed. That fight is clearly reflected in each carrier's ads.

A new Verizon ad shows crowds of people dancing, biking and sweeping through streets at night carrying sparklers and smiling in a Fourth of July-type celebration. That commercial debuted just as the carrier rolled out LTE service to its 500th city on Thursday.

Meanwhile, AT&T continues to run a series of months-old TV ads featuring children talking with an adult and saying funny things about how important it is to be fast. The underlying message: AT&T has "the nation's fastest 4G LTE network."

Earlier this week, AT&T said it had activated LTE in 291 cities.

It wasn't very long ago that Verizon claimed to have the fastest LTE network. But AT&T has repeatedly bragged about having the fastest overall network nationwide, citing tests conducted by Root Metric and PC Magazine. In some major cities, Verizon was, on average, faster in the PC Magazine test, sparking a few analysts to point out that network speeds can be highly variable, depending on the number of users, and that speeds will certainly improve as newer technologies like LTE-Advanced emerge.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Verizon's chief network officer, Nicola Palmer, responded to a question about the two carriers' dueling LTE claims by saying that Verizon had adopted a comprehensive approach to LTE that incorporates speed and "more than speed" -- meaning qualities such as reliability and breadth of coverage. Palmer noted that Verizon has joined forces with 20 smaller carriers to push LTE service to Alaskan cities and rural areas of the U.S. She noted that Root Metrics and JD Power had found that Verizon had the most LTE coverage of any carrier.

Palmer stuck with Verizon's standard definition of its average LTE speeds: 5Mbps to 12Mbps on downloads and 2Mbps to 5Mbps on uploads.

Next steps in wireless networks

Since Verizon's data-only network now covers about 95% of the U.S. population, Verizon's next big network push will be toward voice over LTE, known as VoLTE, Palmer said. Verizon plans to roll out VoLTE all at once in 2014, not market by market, she said.

When VoLTE emerges, Verizon will be able to sell LTE-only phones, eliminating the need for some radio chips for 3G networks that now support voice calls. That could lower the cost of phones.

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