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First AT&T LTE devices to drop next week

Although we don't know yet just when AT&T will fire up its LTE network, we now know that AT&T will start selling LTE gear next week.

Although AT&T's first batch of LTE gear won't likely set the world on fire, it's the clearest indication yet that the carrier's LTE network is almost ready to go. The two new devices, known as the AT&T USBConnect Momentum 4G and the AT&T Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G, can connect to both AT&T's HSPA+ and its soon-to-be launched LTE network. The USBConnect Momentum is a laptop dongle while the Mobile Hotspot Elevate is a portable LTE hotspot that can connect up to five Wi-Fi-capable devices to AT&T's LTE and HSPA+ networks at once.

RELATED: 5 U.S. cities to hit AT&T LTE jackpot this summer

While AT&T still 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 yearend. In total, AT&T estimates that 70 million Americans will have access to its LTE network by the start of 2012. As far as pricing goes, AT&T says that LTE customers will be able to buy 5GB of monthly data for $50 while paying an additional $10 per additional gigabyte consumed.

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 2Mbps to 4Mbps range.

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