During all of this endless talk of 4G, one company has been left out of the mix. While Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon all race to have the largest 4G network available in the most places, AT&T has been continuing to ride the 3G wave with little word of "4G," that is, until today. This morning Ol' Blue finally showed their first step towards their update to LTE (not that we thought they wouldn't). They purchased a Qualcomm spectrum, previously used for FLO TV, that they plan use to aid the growth of their LTE network.
I can remember when 3G was first introduced, AT&T took off running with it. Along came the iPhone 3G and its popularity started eating away at their network. Now here we are with 4G and the three other major US carriers have already begun rolling out their next generation networks. That puts AT&T at a six or seven month disadvantage. So why are they so slow to adopt the technology? We know they upgraded to HSPA+, which is being used as a buffer network until they can roll out LTE, but they're not calling it "4G."
One obvious answer is they want their current network to be up to par before they tackle rolling out an entirely new network. It wasn't until the Droid Does commercials from Verizon that AT&T's less-than-desirable 3G network became an object of attention. Verizon started throwing around their red-filled 3G coverage maps and pitted them against AT&T's rather spotty 3G maps. This led to some upset folks over at AT&T and a failed lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, AT&T started working diligently on their 3G coverage, and they're still slowly working on it today, giving little to no info on its progress.
One thing worth noting is that it won't be until the middle of next year that the sale of Qualcomm's spectrum is closed; I assume it will be at least then before we see any physical evidence of 4G from AT&T. I'm not sure what's holding the carrier up. 4G is proving to be very popular and impressive technology, and where everything mobile is headed, so I'm baffled as to why AT&T is taking their sweet time to make this move.
Verizon is hinting at 4G Android devices in February and already have broadband cards with access to the network and Sprint has WiMAX devices available and has for some time. T-Mobile has numerous devices that are capable of running on its HSPA+ network, but we know how AT&T feels about that. This means AT&T is dead last in the 4G race as they don't plan to pursue any advancement with their HSPA+ network, but at least they can sleep easy knowing that when the time comes, ITU will dub their network as true "4G."
Being so far behind the rest of the competition, AT&T better bring something big when they finally roll out their LTE network. Poor customer ratings and the iPhone potentially heading to Verizon are already two reasons for some to jump carriers. Come the new year, AT&T being the only major carrier without a 4G network may be strike three for many. Who's putting money on the iPhone 5 being AT&T's first 4G phone? Or do you think they have something bigger up their sleeve?