Verizon’s 4G LTE Service Arrives Dec. 5 With 3G Prices

Verizon Wireless (s vz) announced the launch of its next-generation LTE network at a press event Wednesday, promising fast mobile broadband speeds in 38 U.S. markets and 60 airports, covering more than 110 million people. In conjunction with the new network, the carrier also announced new pricing plans and introduced two USB modems for notebook computers to access the service, which Verizon says is 10 times faster than its current 3G network. In the first half of next year, Verizon expects to launch LTE-capable handsets, the first of which will be shown at the January Consumer Electronics Show.

Verizon’s new network, which it calls 4G service, officially launches on December 5, as will compatible devices. Stay tuned, however: we’ll have an early hands-on review of the service as soon as our LTE USB dongle arrives later today. The initial USB sticks for sale directly from Verizon are the LG VL600 on Sunday when the network launches and the Pantech UML290 “soon after”:  each will cost $99, after a $50 rebate with a two-year plan commitment. Users of either device will fall back to Verizon’s 3G network when out of range of LTE.

After much consideration on different pricing methods, Verizon Wireless CTO, Tony Melone said today the company decided to start with traditional pricing plans: $50 per month nets 5 GB of data on the new network while $80 is good for 10 GB; that is the same pricing for Verizon’s current 3G network when using a MiFi, tablet, or notebook. Overages for the LTE network are $10 per GB. The $50 for 5 GB plan is actually $10 less than what Verizon currently charges for 3G USB sticks.

Of course, the big difference between 3G and LTE is in the wireless network speed. On today’s conference call Melone said that users can expect real world download speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps with uploads in the 2 to 5 Mbps range. Melone said that network latency is half of Verizon’s existing 3G network, bringing the response close to that of a wired network, and that the network is well optimized for video-intensive applications.

In terms of network coverage, today’s press release mentions all of the covered markets, but here are some of the largest on the list: New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Miami, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and St. Louis just to name a few. Verizon today said that it expects to offer LTE service everywhere it currently provides 3G service by 2013. Verizon is counting on its broad network coverage to differentiate its 4G service with those of competitors but says, “Not all 4G is the same.”

Verizon’s LTE implementation comes at a time where mobile broadband competition is heating up in the U.S. as carriers are deploying faster networks in an attempt to keep up with growing demand for data. Even with these new networks, carriers are struggling to keep up with consumer demand for data. As of December of last year, wireless data use surpassed that of wireless voice, and the trend will only continue. While 98 percent of smartphone users, for example, currently use 250 MB or less of data per month, that figure is expected to rise four-fold, to 1 GB per month, causing additional strain on the networks and very likely to impact future pricing plans.

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