Update: AT&T adds cell sites outside Columbus, launches yearly smartphone upgrade plan July 26

Wireless company yet to offer faster 4G LTE service in the Columbus market

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 16, 2013 

AT&T said Monday it has expanded its tower footprint in several areas north and east of Columbus.

Then on Tuesday, the company announced it is shaking up its wireless service nationwide with yearly smartphone or tablet upgrades and payment plans.

The new cellular towers have been installed in the Georgia communities of West Point, Hogansville and Box Springs, AT&T media relations manager Ann Elsas said via email. Those are on top of four cell sites launched in June in LaGrange.

“More than ever before, customers look to wireless communications to stay in touch with family, friends and business colleagues,” AT&T Georgia President Sylvia Russell said of the firm’s investment in new towers and cell equipment.

AT&T touts itself as having the nation’s largest 4G network and the nation’s fastest 4G LTE network. The 4G stands for fourth generation, while LTE is an acronym for long-term evolution and is the industry standard for speedy networks needed to smoothly navigate the data world, particularly the Internet.

AT&T has 4G in the Columbus market, but not the faster LTE. A check of the firm’s coverage map shows virtually every other major metro area in Georgia with LTE, while many smaller communities in the state also have the top-of-the-line service.

Elsas, in a statement, said the company uses HSPA+ technology locally and those 4G speeds “are incredibly fast — up to four times faster than 3G.” But she also acknowledged there is work to be done on adding spectrum, or capacity, to the Columbus network.

“As far as LTE, there is currently a lack of available spectrum in Columbus, and we are working hard to address this,” the statement said. “In the meantime, we continue to invest in technology, strengthen our network and seek opportunities to offer the best wireless experience possible in the region.”

The company has said it now has 4G LTE in 328 markets, serving 225 million people. It expects to complete a nationwide rollout of LTE by the end of 2014. Nearly 90 percent should be up and running by the end of this year, however. AT&T has invested $3.9 billion in Georgia since 2010.

“We are certainly not finished here in Georgia, and we value and appreciate our Columbus-area customers’ understanding and support as we work hard to make the necessary improvements they expect and deserve,” the statement from Elsas said.

But on the phone and pricing side, Columbus-area residents soon will be able to take advantage of a major change in AT&T’s wireless service. Starting July 26, it will launch the “AT&T Next” program that allows customers to upgrade to a new smartphone once a year with no down payment, activation fee or upgrade fee. Upgrades were previously offered every two years.

Similar to a move unveiled earlier this year by T-Mobile, consumers can pay for their smartphone or tablet over 20 months with no interest charged. The devices will range from $15 to $50 per month, with the amount added to monthly bills.

For example, AT&T said a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone can be had for zero money down, with payments of $32 per month for 20 months. T-Mobile, on the other hand, currently offers the same phone for $99.99 down and payments of $20 for 24 months.

Both companies allow the phones to be paid off early with no penalties. T-Mobile, however, recently announced a program that lets its customers upgrade phones every six months.

Both T-Mobile and Sprint offer the older 3G, or third generation, network service in the Columbus market. The two carriers are trying to catch up with AT&T and Verizon Wireless on the LTE front.

Verizon has invested heavily in 4G LTE in recent years and began offering the faster technology to Columbus residents a year ago. The company recently said it has completed its rollout in Georgia, spending more than $550 million since launching 4G LTE in Atlanta and Athens in December 2010. It has invested more than $2 billion in the state since it started doing business here in 2000.

That includes a new cell site announced Tuesday on Fort Benning. The site is near Griswold Range in a training area of post, the company said.

Nationwide, Verizon Wireless’ LTE network covers 298 million people in 500 markets.

“With a wireless network that offers speeds comparable to broadband cable Internet, our customers are discovering how 4G LTE revolutionizes the way we communicate,” said Jonathan LeCompte, president of the Verizon’s Georgia/Alabama region.

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