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AT&T gets its first LTE phones next week

AT&T is getting ready to add the one crucial piece that's been missing from its LTE rollout: smartphones.

The HTC Vivid and the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket will both drop on Nov. 6 and will represent the first AT&T smartphones to have LTE connectivity. Both devices run on Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") and feature dual-core processors, 4.5-inch display screens and 8-megapixel cameras capable of filming 1080 HF video. The Skyrocket is slightly more expensive at $250 while the Vivid is priced at $200.

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AT&T officially launched its LTE network in five markets this past summer and the carrier has been steadily expanding into more markets ever since. The carrier will launch services in Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Athens, Ga., on Nov. 6 and has plans to launch LTE in 15 markets covering 70 million Americans by the end of the year. 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.

Rival carrier Verizon first launched its LTE network in December 2010 and has since expanded it to cover all major markets in the United States. The carrier estimates that its LTE network will cover around 185 million Americans by the end of this year and that it will have upgraded its entire 3G footprint to LTE by the end of 2013.

Until its first launch earlier this year, AT&T waited patiently to get its LTE network up and running and it 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 2Mbps to 4Mbps range.

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