AT&T Launching LTE Network Mid 2011

Apple’s U.S. iPhone partner, AT&T, is targeting mid 2011 for its official LTE, or 4G, wireless network launch. As part of the rollout, the cell service provider plans to offer LTE coverage to upwards of 75 million customers by the end of the year, according to FierceWireless.

LTE networks are designed to offer faster wireless data speeds along with higher user capacities compared with current 3G wireless networks.

Along with its LTE build-out plans, AT&T plans to continue enhancing its current network with HSPA+ support for better voice and data service on compatible mobile phones. The dual network technology plan AT&T is pursuing will give the carrier a fallback system should customers lose their LTE connections for any reason.

The company is also working on updating its backhaul system to handle the faster data protocols.

AT&T had been holding back on its plans to move into LTE services while waiting for the technology to mature. While the company was waiting, however, Verizon has been moving forward with its LTE network upgrades and expects to offer active networks in as many as 30 markets by the end of 2010.

Verizon might be ahead in the network upgrade game now, but AT&T is working to catch up. The company is planning on spending some US$700 million in 2010 on its LTE program, and Operations CEO John Stankey said 2011’s LTE investments “will go far beyond that.”