AT&T's de la Vega Promises to Deliver Slim, Power-Efficient LTE Phones

AT&T (NYS: T) Mobility's LTE smartphones will be thinner and more power-efficient than current LTE smartphones, including those from rival Verizon (NYS: VZ) Wireless, according to AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets CEO Ralph de la Vega.

De la Vega told CNET that the technology in the phones is behind the timing of their release. AT&T has said it will launch at least one LTE smartphone by year-end. "We had to wait longer, but we think it's worth the wait," de la Vega said in an interview.

The AT&T chief said the company's LTE phones will rely on circuit-switch fallback when moving from LTE coverage to AT&T's HSPA+ network, which will save on power. Verizon's LTE phones handoff calls between LTE and the company's EV-DO network when a consumer moves out of an LTE coverage area.

"What AT&T is saying is of great interest to handset engineers and to manufacturers. For actual customers, it doesn't matter," Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson told FierceWireless. "We're always looking to optimize battery life and seamlessness, but this is a red herring."

Verizon's earlier LTE smartphones, including the HTC ThunderBolt, were praised by reviewers for their speed but also dinged for being bulky and having weak battery life when LTE was enabled. Verizon has insisted that it is making strides in battery life for its LTE devices. Indeed, Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo said an investor conference last month that the LTE-capable Motorola Mobility (NYS: MMI) Droid Bionic, which Verizon began selling last month for $300 with a two-year contract, has solved the battery life issues that affected earlier LTE smartphones. The Bionic's battery life "is probably as good as a 3G device right now," he said.

AT&T is playing catch up to Verizon, which currently offers LTE service covering more than 160 million POPs. AT&T has commercially launched LTE in five markets and intends to cover at least 15 markets and 70 million POPs by year-end. Verizon, which launched LTE in December 2010, also has 14 LTE devices in its lineup, including five LTE smartphones, with a sixth, the Samsung Stratosphere, announced this week. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead told Reuters that the carrier will have more than 20 LTE devices by year-end.

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