While AT&T was excited to drop big devices and huge news alongside their 4G network, it’s important to clarify their short term and long term definitions of LTE, and what it will mean for the consumer. This deployment, while hailed by AT&T as “better because no one else is doing it this way” can also be seen as “different because it causes more trouble for the users”
The AT&T 4G plan includes rapidly delivering HSPA+across their existing network, and releasing many HSPA+ devices, including the Motorola Atrix 4G. This deployment will have many devices branded “4G” by AT&T, and will continue to develop that way until they are ready to deploy their LTE network. Once the LTE network is out, AT&T has committed to LTE devices that will be able to fall back onto HSPA+ when not in an LTE area. This plan, while not as immediate as Verizon’s path to LTE, will actually offer a smoother transition, but also hurts early adopters in a unique way.
First, the good news. LTE devices will be able to gracefully switch between HSPA+ and LTE in a way that Verizon will not be able to offer, due to network compatibility. As you may recall, Verizon’s first LTE USB sticks have issues switching from CDMA to LTE. At the moment, Verizon has not offered a solution. This will not happen in AT&T’s world, due to some natural compatibility between those networks.
Now, the bad. Any consumer who buys a “4G” phone from AT&T in Q1 and Q2 of 2011 will be on a contract and stuck with their device as LTE grows up around them. Their 4G won’t be everyone elses 4G in, at a maximum, 6 months time. It seems AT&T’s desire to play 4G with the other kids will affect a significant consumer basis in a short time, and possibly even cause some sort of an exodus, though that seems extreme.
So there you have it. AT&T is both poised to deliver a great network, and to step on as many people as possible as they get there.