Bay Area residents now have another fast lane on the information superhighway.
AT&T announced Thursday it has launched a new higher-speed wireless network. Using so-called LTE technology, the network promises to deliver Web pages, email and other Internet data up to 10 times faster than the company's older 3G network.
"This really is what people want," said Terry Stenzel, AT&T vice president and general manager for Northern California and northern Nevada. "If you don't have speed, you can't play in today's mobile broadband business."
The new LTE network is available in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and other Bay Area cities. More than half of AT&T's cell towers in the Bay Area will offer LTE service, the company said. The new network generally will be available within the areas bounded by interstates 280, 580, 680 and 880. It will not be available in Marin County or much of the North Bay, a company representative said.
Customers who want to use the new network will need a phone equipped with an LTE antenna or an LTE antenna that can be plugged into a PC. Although AT&T offers a handful of LTE-capable smartphones, many of the company's most popular models, including Apple's (AAPL) iPhones, won't be able to access the new network.
LTE stands for "long-term evolution" and is considered to be a fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless technology. It promises not only faster speeds but also the ability to more efficiently divvy up the available spectrum among users, potentially limiting dropped calls or slowdowns. Also, by shifting users over to the LTE network, the company will be able to lighten the strain on its older network, which it will continue to operate. Both features could be important for AT&T, whose service has drawn repeated criticism for its reliability.
"This really gives everyone a better experience," Stenzel said.
AT&T is the latest company to offer 4G service in the Bay Area. Verizon launched LTE network in the area in December 2010, and Sprint began offering 4G service using a different networking standard about the same time. T-Mobile has been offering what it calls 4G service since 2010; the service actually offers speeds comparable to what are found on 4G networks using older 3G technology.
"This is long overdue," said Chris Jones, principal analyst at Canalys, a technology research firm. "AT&T was dragging its feet. They've got a lot of catching up to do."
Stenzel said the company delayed rolling out its LTE network in part to improve bandwidth to its cell towers and to roll out a higher-speed 3G service that will serve as a fallback to the LTE network.
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AT&T on Thursday launched its new high-speed 4G network in the Bay Area. Here's what it offers:
Faster speeds: Consumers should see speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second. AT&T's older network delivers speeds of about 2 to 6 megabits per second
Better sharing: LTE technology divvies up spectrum more efficiently. That should mean fewer dropped calls.
Less crowding: The new network operates on a different frequency. That should free up space on other channels, meaning better service even for those not on the LTE network.
Source: AT&T, Mercury News research