Verizon Wireless Announces First 4G LTE Test Markets

There’s a good chance residents of Boston and Seattle will have a new high-speed wireless broadband option before the end of this year—Verizon Wireless recently announced plans to test its 4G wireless broadband service in these cities. The new wireless data service promises speeds that are five to 10 times faster than the service used today by popular handsets such as Apple’s iPhone.

While today’s 3G networks are adequate for checking email or surfing the web, they’re not fast enough for high-quality video or real-time video gaming. Simply put, 3G services can’t match the speed of a hard-wired connection such as what is offered by telephone and cable TV providers. 4G services are set to change this.

Verizon Wireless hasn’t made any announcements regarding what it plans to charge for the new service or what speeds the service will realistically provide, though a report issued in February by Dick Lynch, the company’s chief technology officer, said Verizon Wireless’s LTE system has been tested at speeds almost 60 times faster than the company’s current 3G network. News of 4G’s debut cities came by means of a conference call for investors. The company has said it is not yet ready to speak publicly about the service.

Verizon Wireless plans to use the LTE (Long-Term Evolution) standard for its 4G network. This service will have the ability to display crystal-clear videos and will allow users to play complex multi-player games or hold two-way video conferences. Given 4G’s capabilities and promises, it’s expected that some users will consider giving up their DSL or cable Internet services and go with wireless.

Godfrey Chua, research analyst at IDC Corp. in Framingham, believes 4G wireless service could compete with traditional Internet services: “If you have cable modem at home, it gets us up to that level.” But cable and Internet giant Comcast doesn’t believe 4G poses a threat. As spokeswoman Mary Nell Westbrook pointed out, the nation already has 4G services in several cities, thanks to Sprint and Clearwire’s recent rollouts of WiMAX. Westbrook also mentioned, “Our services are so much faster than [the nation’s first 4G service] today.”

Verizon Wireless president Denny Strigl indicated the Boston and Seattle deployments are just the beginning. He also said the company intends to launch the new services in up to 30 markets next year, making it available to as many as 100 million potential subscribers.

While Verizon Wireless is moving quickly towards 4G, the nation’s two other top-four carriers are taking their time. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said his company won’t begin testing a 4G service until 2011. Instead, AT&T plans to upgrade its existing 3G network to deliver about seven times the current speed. T-Mobile is also taking its time moving to 4G. Like AT&T, the company plans to upgrade its existing network, which is still in the process of being rolled out.