Thursday, December 2, 2010

LTE: end of all you can eat

The FT reports this morning on Verizon Wireless’ plan to unveil its LTE network this Sunday. By covering 39 markets and 60 airports, the footprint is equivalent to a POP of 110 million — slightly less than 40% of the country. It’s bad news for AT&T: it will have to stop bragging about the “fastest” data network in the US, and pundits say the iPhone LTE is just around the corner.

Although the ITU says LTE and WiMax are no longer “4G” standards — even though they were clearly developed as same — this will be the second major carrier to offer 4G service in the US and the first (unlike Sprint) to follow the global 4G standard. At "up to" 12 Mbps, the new service is 10x as fast as existing 3G service. So perhaps we can call these 4G- as opposed to T-Mobiles faux 4G that is 3G+.

What’s strikes me is the pricing of the data plans. On the one hand, Verizon is offering 4G data bundles at the same price as comparable 3G ones. The VZW LTE plans are $50 for 5gb/month or $80 for 10gb/month. Each additional GB (or fraction thereof) is $10. On the other hand, the new rollout marks the long-predicted end of Verizon’s $30/month unlimited 3G plan, following AT&T’s lead. Now $35 only gets you 3gb/month.

This is both a threat and opportunity for Sprint. Sprint surcharges owners of 4G (WiMax) by $10/month over its 3G users, and that surcharge may no longer be sustainable. On the other hand, Sprint still is promising unlimited voice and data services with its $100/month plan ($110 for 4G).

Today the $40/month unlimited 3G data for the Virgin Mobile hotspot or USB modem is now looking pretty good — a real market opportunity for the Sprint division. If I were sending a college student away to college, that would be the no-brainer option.

Update, Friday 7am: InfoWorld offers an overview of the strange anomalies in the pricing of the various carriers’ data plans.

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