AT&T is jumping into the actual 4G game with its first two LTE products.
The telecommunications giant plans to show off a laptop card called the USBConnect Momentum 4G and a mobile hot-spot device called the Elevate 4G--the first two devices that are compatible with its upcoming next-generation wireless network. The two products will be on display at an annual company showcase later today.
The two devices shouldn't be confused with AT&T phones and products that currently carry the 4G tag. The two new products will be compatible with a flavor of 4G called Long-Term Evolution, which also powers the network that Verizon Wireless has been tirelessly touting in recent months.
AT&T has previously said that LTE theoretically is more than three times faster than its current "4G network" and 10 times faster than 3G. The company hasn't disclosed actual comparisons.
AT&T, which plans to launch its 4G LTE network this summer in five cities and in 15 cities by year's end, is racing to catch up to Verizon and Sprint Nextel in the 4G game. In January, AT&T followed T-Mobile USA's footsteps and rebranded an upgraded variant of its 3G network, called HSPA+, with the 4G title, allowing it to continue boasting of the country's fastest nationwide network.
But AT&T is far behind Verizon when it comes to the deployment of 4G LTE. Verizon's LTE network is in 77 metropolitan areas now, with plans to cover 175 markets by the end of the year. Sprint, meanwhile, is in 71 markets with its WiMax variant of 4G, although its expansion has stalled because of financing problems with partner and network operator Clearwire.
AT&T argues that the HSPA+ variant of 4G, which is available in 80 percent of the country, allows for a more smooth transition when moving between networks.
"Our customers will have the benefit of access to both our LTE network and our HSPA+ network," Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices for AT&T, said in an e-mail. "This will provide a much more compelling and consistent speed experience as customers travel across our network."
The company also argues that in some cases, its version of 4G is just as fast as Sprint's WiMax. However, AT&T has moved up the timetable for its 4G LTE deployment, underscoring the importance of keeping pace with the competition. When launching a new network, laptop cards are typically the first product out of the gate. More recently, mobile hot-spot devices, which use the cellular network to generate a small but portable Wi-Fi hot spot for other devices, have become an increasingly popular way to introduce a new network.
For AT&T, the Momentum and Elevate are a good start. The Momentum laptop card will sell for $49.99 with a two-year contract. The device has a slot for a MicroSD card that can hold up to 32GB of data. It weighs 1.06 ounces.
The Elevate hot-spot device will cost $69.99 with a two-year contract. It has a color 1.77-inch LCD display that shows the Wi-Fi network name and security key. It weighs 3.6 ounces and can be used for up to five hours and connect up to five devices. Like the Momentum, it has a slot to allow for a 32GB memory card.
Dallas-based AT&T declined to comment on when the products will be available, adding only that they will sell with the launch of the 4G LTE network, which hasn't been specified yet. The company is also still working on the data plan prices for the devices.