AT&T Adds New Devices Ahead of Faster 4G Network

In preparation for the release of more details about its next generation mobile broadband network, AT&T (s t) has introduced three new data devices for laptop users, two of which will support the carrier’s faster HSPA+ or LTE networks in the future. Those two — the USBConnect Adrenaline and USBConnect Shockwave — will be available with a two-year contract, while the third, the USBConnect 900, is a contract-free, pre-paid data device. With the new dongles, AT&T is ensuring that customers can take advantage of data network upgrades currently in progress and planned for the future.

Although AT&T is just now running LTE trials in Dallas and Baltimore, it plans to launch LTE service by mid-2011 and cover approximately 75 million people with LTE service by the end of next year. That’s where a device such as the $49.99 Adrenaline comes in: The software on the USB data stick can be upgraded so that it works on today’s 3G network but will also work on the future 4G network. The free Shockwave dongle won’t work on LTE, but it can take advantage at AT&T’s planned HSPA+ network. The third device, the USBConnect 900 built by Huawei, costs $79.99 and uses AT&T’s current 3G network, but offers flexibility without a contract. Customers with this device can pre-pay for a Day, Week or Month Pass: Respective data prices are $15, $30 and $50, providing capacities of 100 MB, 300 MB and 1 GB of data.

[inline-pro-content]We’re expecting to hear more about AT&T’s network upgrade path this morning as company CEO Ralph de la Vega gives the keynote at the CTIA industry event at 9:30 a.m. PT. While additional details of the carrier’s move to HSPA+ are likely to be shared, AT&T’s LTE effort is also a likely mention as Verizon’s (s vz) plans to launch LTE in 25 to 30 markets, covering 100 million people within the next three months. The two competitors appear to be heading down the same path with LTE, but there’s a key difference. As Verizon customers move out of an LTE coverage area, devices will fall back to the carrier’s 3G network, which provides theoretical 3.1 Mbps speeds. AT&T’s step-by-step strategy of moving first from HSPA+, then to LTE will provide a fall-back to the carrier’s theoretical 7.2 Mbps network, which means customers will see less of a speed drop.

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