Device makers race to tap 4G network

After years of false starts and broken promises, the mobile internet is finally becoming a reality, spurred on by the deployment of new high-speed mobile data networks and the emergence of a new class of smartphones, slate-style tablets and other devices designed to take advantage of the new network capabilities and content geared to mobile users.

The leading US mobile network operators and makers of smartphones and tablet PCs used the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which wraps up on Sunday, as a launch pad for their new 4G services, software applications and devices boasting download speeds up to 10 times faster than current 3G networks.

Their success or failure in persuading consumers and business users to trade-up to higher speed data networks and the next generation electronic devices that run on them will be closely watched elsewhere as mobile network operators worldwide prepare to invest in new infrastructure based on LTE (Long Term Evolution) and rival technologies.

At the CES this week, Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone group, launched 10 new consumer products including four smartphones and two tablets designed to operate on its new LTE network which launched last month.

The new LTE devices, which will be available “by mid-year”, include Motorola’s new Droid Bionic smartphone and rival Google Android-powered handsets from HTC, Samsung and LG Electronics.

Despite some speculation, there was no announcement of a Verizon iPhone.

The two tablets, both powered by Google’s new Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) operating system, are Motorola’s Xoom and an LTE version of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.

Dan Malone, Verizon Wireless chief technology officer, said the LTE network performance “is already exceeding our expectations” and promised that the network would be quickly extended from the initial 39 markets to more than 170 markets and two-thirds of the US population by year-end.

Verizon Wireless is one of the first mobile network operators in the world to launch an LTE network and its decision to deploy LTE early has sparked a confusing 4G marketing battle between the four leading US mobile operators – with each claiming leadership in some aspect of the consumer experience.

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