Minnesota now covered by LTE cellphone service, carriers say

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2013 - 5:07 PM

All four major cellphone carriers offer LTE service, though only two blanket the state.

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T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray announces the company is providing 4G LTE service covering 157 million people in 116 metro areas, blowing past its 2013 goal of reaching 100 million people during T Mobile’s Un-carrier event at Skyline Studios, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in New York. (John Minchillo/AP Images for T Mobile) ORG XMIT: CPA701

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There’s change in the air, and the big cellphone companies are trying to make the most of it.

The change is 4G, or fourth-generation, cellphone service, made possible by a technology called LTE, or long-term evolution, which makes data travel through the air about 10 times faster than the previous 3G service.

The result is better video and improved Web browsing for phones and new services such as video surveillance and Internet access in moving cars.

LTE, which has been deployed across the country over the last four years, is now the driving force behind sales of smartphones. LTE-capable phones now account for half of U.S. cellphone sales, said research firm Strategy Analytics.

“The main attraction of LTE for consumers is faster download speeds,” said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics. “LTE is broadband in your pocket.”

There’s clearly something in it for cellphone companies, too.

“A main attraction of LTE for operators is more network capacity and a chance to upsell higher-priced data plans or devices,” Mawston said.

The companies with the most national LTE coverage are Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, in that order, Mawston said.

In Minnesota, Verizon Wireless said it has completed installing LTE in nearly the entire state. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever lose a signal on LTE, said Aaron Glass, executive director of network for Verizon’s Great Plains region.

“There’s a higher density of cell towers in the Twin Cities than in rural area, so there’s a better chance that you won’t lose a signal in the Twin Cities,” Glass said.

How fast? Very fast

Verizon’s typical LTE download speeds are 5 to 12 million bits per second, or megabits, while upload speeds are 2 to 5 megabits, he said. That’s considerably faster than 3G service, which offers downloads of 1 megabit per second, and uploads of 0.3 to 0.4 megabits, Glass said. Speeds can be affected by the number of people using the cellular network at the same time.

“The traffic on the LTE network is in its infancy,” Glass said. “The rate of traffic growth more than doubled from last year. The capabilities of 4G LTE are changing user behavior.”

Despite those speeds, Verizon makes no claim that its LTE network is competitive with the speed of cable TV companies.

The reason: Verizon charges by the amount of data you download. Cable TV companies such as Comcast still allow customers to download unlimited amounts of data for a flat rate.

“We expect LTE to remain mostly a metered data service for now,” said analyst Mawston. “If U.S. operators made LTE usage unlimited for the masses, it would quickly fill up the networks with traffic, reduce the user experience due to clogged networks, and diminish profits for carriers.”

Big cities, major highways

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