4G Forces: AT&T Goes With Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent

The value of the deal was not disclosed, but the LTE project figures to be a major plus for both Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. Ironically, AT&T's chief competitor, Verizon, is using the same two manufacturers for its new network rollout. That similarity, however, didn't seem to bother AT&T, which has been under heavy criticism recently for its 3G network shortcomings and customer-service issues.

AT&T plans to initiate field trials of its LTE technology later this year and, if all goes well, commercial rollout of the network will begin in 2011. Along with LTE, AT&T says the deal with Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent will help improve its current 3G network performance. Though the wireless carrier did not specify how the two suppliers will contribute, AT&T did say that the 3G equipment shipped this year by Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson will be easily convertible to LTE down the road, making it much easier for AT&T to upgrade existing equipment and software as it transitions to the new 4G network.

"The selection of Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson is an important step forward in our ongoing mobile broadband strategy, which is focused on delivering the best possible combination of speed, performance and available devices for customers at every level of technology deployment," John Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T Operations, said in a statement. "AT&T has a key advantage in that LTE is an evolution of the existing GSM family of technologies that powers our network and the vast majority of the world's global wireless infrastructure today. As some competitors move away from their existing investment in niche 3G platforms, we are able to efficiently and quickly move toward LTE while enhancing our existing 3G performance and providing access to a strong ecosystem of customer devices."

The LTE network is based on the same GSM/UMTS mobile broadband platform that AT&T uses for its 3G network, except that AT&T believes LTE technology will deliver higher throughput and lower latency than today's current networks. The LTE network will be a key part of AT&T's strategy to win over additional mobile devices that run increasingly powerful applications with rich media.

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The LTE deployment will be crucial to AT&T's effort to improve its reputation, which has taken a hit recently over issues with its network performance for Apple's iPhone. The company said last month it will spend approximately $2 billion in wireless network and backhaul investments this year, which it hopes will improve 3G performance. The wireless carrier recently upgraded its 3G cell sites to HSPA (high-speed packet access) 7.2 technology, which AT&T plans to combine with enhanced fiber-optic backhaul connectivity to boost both current 3G performance as well as the LTE service next year.