Sprint turns up LTE in 21 new cities; preps for big 4G push this summer

Sprint’s (s s) LTE rollout machine sprang back into action this week. It announced Thursday that its new 4G network is now available in 21 markets, including Los Angeles, and added a bunch of cities to its buildout schedule in the coming months.

Here are the new markets receiving LTE services: Albemarle, N.C.; Bloomington, Ind.; Charlotte, N.C.; Contra Costa County, Calif.; Denison, Texas; Greeneville, Tenn.; Joplin, Mo.; Kerrville, Texas; Lafayette, Ind.; Lincolnton, N.C.; Los Angeles; Mankato/North Mankato, Minn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Newport News, Va.; Palm Bay, Fla.; Port St. Lucie, Fla.; Rochelle, Ill.; Salisbury, N.C.; Shelby, N.C.; Tullahoma, Tenn.; West Palm Beach, Fla.

Sprint now has LTE service in 88 markets (you can see the complete list here), and while many of them are on the small side, the operator is readying some major cities for launch. The operator called out New York City, San Francisco and Washington in Thursday’s announcement, saying customers are already starting to get LTE signals in those cities. In the coming months, Sprint said, it will officially unveil networks in additional 120 cities and towns in coming months.

Sprint is trying to catch up to Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) and AT&T(s t), both of which got more than a year’s head start on the No. 3 U.S. operator. Verizon is pretty much finished with its primary LTE network — in its earnings call today that it revealed it has built 4G in 95 percent of its 3G footprint — and it is set to break ground on its second network this year.

Recently AT&T has been turning on new LTE markets in small increments. For instance, on Thursday it said the 4G service has expanded to Cheyenne, Wyo.; Cushing, Okla.; and Florence, S.C. But it plans to make a big push this summer as well, launching in 77 new markets. By the end of the year it plans to have 250 million people under its LTE umbrella, which would put it about 50 million shy of Verizon’s footprint.

Meanwhile T-Mobile’s LTE build is just starting. Its first seven 4G cities went live in March.