Verizon Wireless on Wednesday said its wireless high-speed LTE (Long Term Evolution) network will become available in 38 cities on Dec. 5.
Initially, customers will be able to use the network to connect to the Internet from their laptops, at prices starting at $50 per month for 5GB of data. Customers can also choose an $80 monthly plan that comes with 10GB. Each additional gigabyte over those limits will cost $10. They can choose from two USB modems for $100 after a $50 rebate with a two-year contract to connect to the network. Additional modems will come within weeks, Verizon said.
The $50 price undercuts Verizon's current lowest-price data plan on its 3G network. "We wanted to allow those who weren't sure what the demands might be on this network to get in and try this great network," said Tony Malone, Verizon's senior vice president and chief technical officer. Still, he said the company expects customers to "gravitate" to the $80 price plan.
The access-manager software that customers use to connect to the network will alert them about their usage. They'll get four alerts starting when they hit 50% usage of their monthly allotment. Customers will also be able to proactively query the access manager to find out how much data they've used.
Some observers had hoped that mobile handsets that work on the network would become available in the early months of 2011, but on Wednesday Verizon said they would go on sale in mid-2011. In October, Verizon said that it would announce six phones as well as tablets at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Malone said that doesn't mean there's a delay. "I didn't mean to imply at midyear. You shouldn't take that as sending any different signal," he said. Verizon's press release about the network launch says the phones will be available "by" mid-2011.
The USB modems are dual-mode, so they will work on Verizon's 3G network for customers who travel outside of the 38 LTE markets. The service will hand off seamlessly from 4G to 3G but not the reverse. If users are connected to the 3G network and move into 4G coverage, they'll stay on the 3G network until they stop transmitting data.
The 38 markets span the country, with the largest region being southern California, said Malone.
Coverage will also extend to 60 commercial networks, most of which are in the 38 markets, Malone said.
Verizon still plans to cover its entire 3G network with LTE by 2013.
Verizon announced that it would launch LTE, which it says will offer download speeds ranging from 5M bps (bits per second) to 12M bps, in 2009. "At that time we were not sure if we would be the first to offer LTE, but what we are very confident of is that we are the first to offer LTE at the scale that will really make a difference," Malone said.
Verizon was beat to market by regional operator MetroPCS, which launched its first LTE network in Las Vegas in September.
The company continues to refer to the LTE network as 4G, even though the International Telecommunication Union recently said LTE doesn't qualify as 4G. "That's the ITU's version of 4G. Quite frankly, whether you call it 4G or something else isn't really that relevant. The term 4G has been used now for the last several years and quite frankly it is what it is," Malone said.
Starting Sunday, Verizon will display street-level maps of the LTE coverage area on its Web site.