AT&T to launch its LTE network on Sept 18

AT&T (s T) will launch its Long Term Evolutions wireless network in five cities on Sunday, according to CFO John Stephens speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Entertainment & Communications conference. The nation’s No. 2 carrier will launch LTE in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago and Atlanta, and already has devices that support LTE available in the market.

AT&T says it will cover 70 million people before the end of this year, much less than Verizon’s current 160 million people covered, but still on track to bring 4G service to a significant number of Americans. AT&T has also detailed the pricing for the LTE service: $50 per month provides 5 GB of mobile broadband, with each additional gigabyte of service priced at $10.

Back in May I got to see a test of AT&T’s LTE network in Dallas that delivered speeds of 29 Mbps down and 10 up, although others testing the AT&T network in Chicago reported speeds of 13 Mbps down and just above 2 Mbps up. Verizon (s vz) says its LTE network provides between 5-12 Mbps down.

AT&T had promised that the technology would be launched before the end of the summer, and while Ma Bell is stretching it from a calendar standpoint, the autumnal equinox isn’t until the 23rd, which puts them in the clear. Maybe CEO Randall Stephenson has a soft spot for pagans.

However, I wonder if the network launch will stall at any point given that AT&T wants to use spectrum gained through a contested merger with T-Mobile to continue its LTE deployment. AT&T plans to use the 700 MHz band it purchased in the 2008 spectrum auction as well as the AWS band it and T-Mobile hold. The launch of the LTE network will also undoubtedly fan the flames of those hoping that the next generation iPhone will be LTE-enabled, although the battery life for LTE-handsets is still atrocious owing to the newness of the technology. We discuss more 4G devices and networks at our upcoming Mobilize conference Sept. 26 and 27 in San Francisco.