AT&T names LTE suppliers as it charges into battle with Verizon

AT&T today announced equipment suppliers for its coming high-speed wireless LTE network and signaled the start of an aggressive battle against rival Verizon Wireless.

AT&T named Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson as its multiyear LTE suppliers with contracts that are estimated by analysts to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. None of the parties discussed exact terms.

Several major suppliers had hoped for the contract, including Motorola Inc., which could not be reached for comment today.

In picking the two LTE suppliers, AT&T "chose to extend existing relationships" because both had provided equipment that's being installed for 3G upgrades to HSPA 7.2. HPSA 7.2 has theoretical speeds of 7.2 Mbit/sec. that is used by the iPhone 3GS and nine other devices as well as the upcoming iPad on 3G . The upgrade is seen as a strategic network advantage by AT&T over Verizon in coming months.

AT&T explained the value of working with its current suppliers this way: "Continued work with these two suppliers will enable AT&T not only to incorporate high-performance LTE equipment, but also take full advantage of the compatibility between the suppliers' existing 3G equipment and forthcoming upgrades," AT&T said in a statement.

"As part of the supplier agreements, 3G equipment delivered to AT&T by the suppliers starting this year will be easilyv conertible to LTE, enabling AT&T to upgrade existing equipment and software rather than install entirely new equipment in many cases as it deploys the next generation technology."

In an e-mail, an AT&T spokeswoman added that picking Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson "is an important step in our ongoing mobile broadband strategy. Unlike our competitors, our strategy will enable us to deliver even faster speeds to a large number of people before 4G [LTE] networks and device lineups scale."

In a statement, John Stankey, CEO of AT&T Operations, asserted an added benefit that AT&T has over Verizon's version of LTE. "AT&T has a key advantage in that LTE is an evolution of the existing family of GSM technologies that powers our network and the vast majority of the world's global wireless infrastructure." By contrast, Verizon has been a CDMA provider, although Verizon has a clear upgrade pathway to LTE that is underway.

Verizon and AT&T have been crossing swords for months, if not years, in preparation for the coming LTE battle in the U.S., with both announcing LTE roadmaps. While AT&T repeated today it would move forward on two LTE field trials this year, Verizon said in January it had field trials already underway in Boston and Seattle, with expectations to launch LTE in 25 to 30 cities by the end of 2010.

But AT&T has undertaken a flank attack. Instead of timing LTE deployments in line with Verizon's in 2010, AT&T is marshaling forces with the Alcatel-Lucent/Ericsson announcement and the upgrade pathway with HSPA 7.2.

But AT&T has also acknowledged that the HSPA 7.2 upgrades will depend on installing fiber optic backhaul connections to cell towers and other cell sites. Early in February, AT&T said it had reached parts of six cities with the needed backhaul connections , following comments by AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega in December that it would reach 25 cities by mid-2010.

Even so, AT&T has projected that a majority of its mobile data traffic will be carried over the expanded fiber-based HSPA-capable backhaul by the end of 2010, with continued expansion in 2011.

AT&T is spending $2 billion more on network improvements in 2010, and many high-speed wireless data needs will be met with Wi-Fi, including 20,000 AT&T hotspots.

How well AT&T meets its schedule could be important to some consumers who rely on AT&T as the exclusive iPhone provider and, soon, the U.S. 3G wireless carrier for the iPad.

While attempting to appeal to future wireless subscribers, AT&T today revealed how how aggressive on high speed wireless it plans to be. AT&T has more than 85 million subscribers and clearly has its eyes on Verizon's first place position with 91 million subscribers.

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@matthamblen or subscribe to . His e-mail address is .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Knowledge Center.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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