AT&T is apparently gearing up for its LTE commercial launch, as the company Wednesday announced that its first LTE USB laptop dongle will be "coming soon."
Known as the AT&T USBConnect Momentum, the dongle will give laptops access to both AT&T's soon-to-be-launched LTE network and to its current HSPA+ network. The dongle will also feature expandable memory that can support microSDTM cards with sizes of up to 32GB and will give anyone who subscribes to a "qualifying data plan" access to AT&T's nationwide Wi-Fi network that features more than 24,000 hotspots across the United States.
While AT&T hasn't yet set any specific dates for when its LTE services will come online, the company has said that it plans to start offering LTE in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio by the end of the summer and in 10 additional markets by year-end. In total, AT&T estimates that 70 million Americans will have access to its LTE network by the start of 2012.
LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is essentially a bridge from 3G technologies such as HSPA+ and EV-DO Rev. A to the 4G IMT-Advanced technologies that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says will deliver consistent speeds in the 100Mbps range. Verizon became the first major U.S. carrier to deploy LTE last year when it launched the technology in 38 major markets covering roughly one-third of the U.S. population. The carrier plans to have its entire current 3G footprint upgraded to LTE by the end of 2013.
AT&T so far has waited patiently to get its LTE network up and running, as the carrier has consistently tried to get more mileage through upgrading its current HSPA+ network. But while HSPA+ does deliver significantly higher speeds than legacy HSPA or EV-DO Rev. A 3G networks, it is simply no match for LTE as a mobile broadband technology. A test released this year by PC World showed that Verizon's LTE laptop air cards provided average download speeds of 6.5Mbps and average upload speeds of 5Mbps, while HSPA+ networks such as those used by AT&T and T-Mobile delivered download speeds in the 2M to 4Mbps range.
Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.