ThunderBolt goes on sale Thursday at Verizon for $249.99

LTE data plan includes unlimited monthly service for $29.99

HTC ThunderBolt smartphone
The HTC ThunderBolt smartphone will run on Verizon's faster LTE network.

The first LTE phone from Verizon Wireless, HTC's Android 2.2-based ThunderBolt, will be available Thursday for $249.99 with a two-year agreement, the carrier and HTC confirmed early Tuesday.

Verizon also offered a look at the likely structure of its forthcoming pricing model for smartphone data service on the faster LTE (Long Term Evolution) network. It said it will offer ThunderBolt owners unlimited data usage on its 4G LTE network for $29.99 a month on top of a nationwide calling plan. Calling plans start at $39.99 a month, Verizon noted.

Other details on LTE data usage pricing or tiers of service for smartphone users were not immediately available, although the mention of an unlimited data plan is a surprise. Verizon officials had recently said that ThunderBolt data pricing would feature new tiers of service, and many wireless experts had suggested that Verizon would not provide an unlimited data plan in its tiered pricing.

Verizon said in early January that it would have three other Android-based LTE phones by midyear: the LG Revolution, the Droid Bionic 4G and the Samsung 4G LTE.

Online retailer Wirefly had put the Thunderbolt on pre-order at 3 a.m. Tuesday for $50 less than Verizon -- $199.99 with a two-year Verizon contract or $669.99 unlocked -- after saying on Monday that the device would be available Thursday.

The ThunderBolt will be available Thursday at Verizon stores and online, the carrier said.

Bloggers and reviewers have been excited by the potential for faster downloads with LTE service on the ThunderBolt. Verizon has said that its LTE network is 10 times faster than its 3G service, and so far its LTE service is available in 39 cities and 60 airports. On Tuesday, Verizon estimated that the average download speeds with LTE on the ThunderBolt are 5Mbit/sec. to 12Mbit/sec., with upload speeds of 2Mbit/sec. to 5Mbit/sec.

Where 4G is not available, the ThunderBolt will convert to 3G speeds. One feature of the LTE network is that it allows ThunderBolt users to simultaneously talk and surf the Web -- a capability that's not available with the iPhone 4 on Verizon 3G networks, according to Wirefly. The ThunderBolt will feature LTE-optimized apps, including EA's Rock Band, Gameloft's Let's Golf and Tunewiki and Bitbop.

Verizon also surprised close observers by saying that the ThunderBolt will be able to act as a mobile hot spot for up to eight Wi-Fi-ready devices, an increase over the expected five devices. Also, Verizon said that mobile hot spot fees will be waived through May 15, although the service will be $20 for 2GB of data hot spot capability per month thereafter.

The ThunderBolt features a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, which is faster than the chips in other smartphones that have shipped recently, but not as fast as some dual-core models announced in January. It also has a generous amount of storage when compared to other smartphones, thanks to its ability to process and store video and games. It has 8GB of onboard memory, plus a pre-installed 32GB microSD card.

The new smartphone will have two cameras to support video chat, although it is not clear which chat software will be used, since Wirefly stated the device will not support Skype video.

While the ThunderBolt sounds like a smartphone for gamers and video fans with its generous storage, faster processor and 4.3-in. screen, Verizon noted that business users will likely appreciate the fact that it will have the latest version of HTC's user interface, Sense, which includes a consolidated e-mail in-box for various e-mail clients. Plus, it supports Google Mobile Services such as Gmail, and it can run apps from the Android Market, which now has more than 150,000 offerings.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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