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AT&T says it has concentrated its LTE coverage in major Minnesota metro areas, including the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester, and on major highways. While AT&T’s Minnesota LTE network is less extensive than Verizon’s, the company says it also provides another tier of cellular service whose download speeds are about 40 percent as fast as LTE, but still faster than 3G.
“If customers fall off our competitor’s LTE network, they go back to 3G because there’s nothing in between,” said Hardmon Williams, AT&T’s vice president and general manager for Minnesota and the Northern Plains region. “We have two layers of mobile broadband.”
T-Mobile said in an e-mail that it also has limited its coverage to larger Minnesota population areas, including the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Rochester and Hudson, Wis.
Sprint, which is in the midst of a major nationwide conversion to LTE from its existing and largely unsuccessful 4G network that used WiMax technology, says it offers LTE in parts of the Twin Cities and smaller cities like Mankato, Faribault and Northfield.
Verizon is planning new LTE services, such as cellular video conferencing for corporate employees in remote offices, or two-way video for existing services, such as allowing customers at ATM banking machines to converse with a real bank employee.
LTE to get more work
Verizon also plans to shift voice calls and text messages to the LTE network as a way to improve voice quality and enable easy video calls, Glass said. Because the primary benefit of LTE is faster data downloads, carriers tend to use them for video and other data-dense information while sending lower-data voice and text messages to the older 3G network.
AT&T’s Williams says that new services for the company’s LTE network will include home automation, which AT&T introduced earlier this year for its 3G network. AT&T also expects to introduce LTE service for automobiles early next year, and is working on ways to use LTE cellphones as credit cards.
“LTE is not just for devices you hold in your hand or for voice calls,” Williams said.
But the LTE revolution won’t happen all at once, and the slower 3G cellular network is expected to be available for years to come.
“We expect 3G networks to be active until the early 2020s,” said analyst Mawston. “There will be plenty of demand for 3G services in rural areas where 4G does not reach for years to come.”
Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553