By Adam Dickter / Top Tech News. Updated January 07, 2011.
Insisting its Long Term Evolution high-speed network has exceeded expectations, Verizon Wireless paved the way Thursday toward opening it to a widespread consumer base with new smartphones, netbooks, tablets and mobile hot-spot devices.
"Today, we're unveiling the next evolution of 4G LTE for consumers," said Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead at a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that was webcast live by Verizon.
New Droid and Thunderbolt
All four of the smartphones unveiled Thursday as well as the two tablets are powered by Google's Android operating system and have a 4.3-inch touchscreen. The HTC Thunderbolt was the least surprising announcement, since leaked photos of the handset appeared on an Android news blog last week. But Motorola's Droid Bionic 4G, the latest in its series of Droid phones, was far less anticipated. The other phones are the LG Revolution and the blandly named Samsung 4G LTE.
Release dates and prices haven't been announced, though all will be available by midyear. The current LTE data plan for modem users is $50 for five gigabytes or $80 for 10GB, with a $10 charge for each gigabyte over the limit. There is no unlimited option.
The Thunderbolt is packed with HTC Sense 2.0, a one-gigahertz Snapdragon processor, a WVGA display, an eight-megapixel camera, and HD video recording.
The Revolution has a capacitive touchscreen, a five-megabyte rear camera, video telephony support with a front-facing camera, and mobile hot-spot capability that lets it share a 4G connection with up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
The Droid Bionic 4G has a front-facing VGA camera with a See What I See video feature, a rear-facing eight-megapixel camera, a 4.3-inch HD screen, HDMI connectivity, and a dual-core one-gigahertz processor.
The Samsung 4G LTE has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus touchscreen display, a one-gigahertz processor, a rear-facing eight-megapixel camera with LED flash, and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera to support video chat.
Verizon also unveiled the Motorola Xoom tablet with a generous 10.1-inch screen -- the first tablet to run Android 3.0, which has been optimized for tablets -- and a souped-up LTE version of Samsung's successful Galaxy Tab with a seven-inch screen.
The LTE netbooks are Compaq's CQ10-688nr, with a 10.1-inch diagonal anti-glare widescreen and Intel Atom N455 processor, and the HP Pavilion dm1-3010nr, with an 11.6-inch display, 320GB of storage, and an island-style keyboard.
To make LTE more accessible, Verizon will also sell the palm-sized Novatel MiFi 4510L Intelligent Mobile Hotspot and Samsung's 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot, which each connect up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices to either 3G or LTE hot spots.
"Verizon this year is going to put a very heavy emphasis on all major suppliers to offer LTE [devices]," wireless analyst Gerry Purdy of MobilTrax told us in a call from CES. "They want to leverage and take advantage of being the first to LTE."
He said Motorola's Xoom tablet is particularly impressive and works well with Android 3.0. "It's an excellent product that has a lot of sex appeal attached to it," he said.
The phones will be equipped with new integrated applications designed for LTE, including an upgraded Skype mobile for video calls and Electronic Arts Rock Band with multiplayer gaming for the first time on a mobile platform.
Mead was joined at the announcement by Vice President and CTO Tony Melone, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Marni Walden, and executives from Samsung, HTC, Skype and game maker Electronic Arts.
Few Speed Bumps
"During this three-year journey, from acquiring spectrum to launch, we not only transformed our network, but also our business by engaging in a strategy of collaboration and openness while driving partnerships that will make 4G LTE successful across the globe," Mead said.
Melone said that in the 32 days since the LTE launch, "we expected some speed bumps, but they are few and far between. It has exceeded our expectations."
In response to questions, the executives said the new devices have SIM cards to enable customers to use them with another network if they leave Verizon and will be capable of international roaming. Melone said he is confident that increased demand on the network as adoption increases will not cause a slowdown.
"I fully expect that we will [maintain] the five to 12 megabits [per second download speed] as we load the network," he said. The company plans to complete the LTE rollout to its current 3G footprint within 36 months and is working with Bluegrass Cellular to increase coverage in rural areas.