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AT&T to Launch 4G LTE Network in 5 Markets This Summer, 10 More by End of 2011

The next iPhone is not going to be a 4G device, but the one after could be. AT&T Wireless today announced plans to deploy 4G LTE networks in 5 select markets this summer, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and San Antonio, followed by “10 or more” to be finished by the end of 2011. The LTE network rollout will cover over 70 million customers in the US.

In concert with the introduction of its LTE networks, AT&T will add 20 4G devices to its mobile portfolio, but clarified that only some of those will be LTE-compatible devices. These “4G” non-LTE devices are likely phones compatible with AT&T’s current HSPA+ network.

Recent lab tests of AT&T’s LTE network in Plano, Texas, displayed downloads speeds of up to 28.87 Mbps, almost double what Verizon currently advertises for its LTE network. However, speeds in real-life usage will likely be substantially less when multiple phones share a network connection. An AT&T spokesperson noted that the company hasn’t officially announced expected speeds for its LTE networks and that the tests in Plano weren’t on a production network.

In a post today on AT&T’s site, CTO John Donovan noted that AT&T planned to spend $19 billion in 2011 on its wireline networks and other capital projects. Donovan claims that, due to recent upgrades, AT&T has increased its network speed by over 40 percent the past two years.

AT&T will be playing catch-up to its main rival Verizon Wireless, who already has a robust 4G LTE network in 38 markets and 60 major airports around the country. Verizon’s LTE network currently covers approximately 120 million people in the US, and the company plans to have its current 3G network map covered with 4G LTE by the end of 2013.

So what does this mean toward the likelihood of a 4G LTE iPhone? Most see it as an initial step, with the next being the refinement of LTE hardware for mobile phones. When asked about the early crop of 4G LTE phones during an April 2011 earnings conference call, Apple COO Tim Cook responded:

….I think you can see this in the [LTE phones] that have been shipped, is that the first generation of LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises with the handset, and some of those, we are just not willing to make.

The “design compromises” likely involve battery life. For example, SlashGear recently reviewed the LTE-compatible HTC Thunderbolt phone and found that, when connected to an LTE network, the battery lasted just 3 hours under full use.

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