AT&T expands 4G LTE network ahead of new iPhone launch

With just days before Apple is expected to unveil its new iPhone, AT&T Thursday announced its 4G LTE network is expanding into nine new US markets. The carrier also said it expects to add 43 more markets for the high-speed network by the end of 2012.

Although Apple’s not talking ahead of the Sept. 12 media event, observers expect the Cupertino, Calif. company to introduce a new iPhone that supports the faster LTE networks. The new iPhone would join the latest iPad as two iOS devices compatible with LTE.

The nine US cities getting 4G LTE include Syracuse, NY, Northern New Jersey, Anchorage, Alaska, Bakersfield, Calif., Bridgeport, Conn., Jacksonville, Fla., Modesto, Calif., and Omaha, Neb., according to AppleInsider.

By the end of this year, the country’s second-largest mobile carrier said it will launch in 43 more markets, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Albany, NY. The company claims to have spent more than $115 billion in upgrading its mobile and wired networks during the past five years.

Some confusion surrounds AT&T’s use of “4G.” When the iPhone 4S arrived, the carrier labeled its HSDPA network “4G,” because it could provide speeds akin to the faster technology. New iPad owners that are AT&T subscribers can easily tell when they are connected to a “4G” network and a true 4G LTE net. While iPhone 4S handsets only display “4G” when connected, the latest tablet will display “LTE” or “4G.”

Despite Thursday announcement, one analyst recently gave Verizon the edge in the LTE horserace. Indeed, Jeffries & Co.’s analyst Thomas Seitz said the upcoming iPhone 5 could “change everything” for Verizon. He advised investors to hold onto AT&T stock and sell Sprint-Nextel.

For AT&T, an LTE iPhone comes at a bad time. According to Seitz, around 9 million AT&T subscribers could jump to Verizon, which has more LTE POPS than all other carriers combined. Although AT&T boasts its 4G network covers more than 275 million people, its true 4G LTE network now covers just over 74 million US citizens.

What do you think? Will you stick with AT&T when the new iPhone arrives next week?