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Sprint set to turn on 4G networks in Los Angeles, New York and Bay Area

October 17, 2010 |  9:00 pm

HTC-EVO Sprint Nextel Corp. is staying a lap ahead in the 4G cellular race by turning on next-generation networks in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco starting next month.

The New York-area network is set to go live Nov. 1, followed by L.A. on Dec. 1, then San Francisco in late December.

The 4G service, Sprint says, will offer data download speeds of 3 megabits to 6 megabits per second -- about 10 times faster than most 3G services, and nearing the average speed for a home broadboand connection. If the network works as advertised those speeds will allow users to easily download and watch data-heavy media such as high-resolution movies, television shows and music.

Sprint already offers two of the first 4G-ready smart phones, the HTC EVO ($199) and the Samsung Epic ($249), both of which require a two-year contract that costs about $80 a month.  Sprint has said that, unlike competitors such as AT&T that require some customers to pay extra if they overshoot their monthly data allotment, Sprint will allow 4G customers unlimited data usage.

Sprint's 4G phones will also work on 3G networks -- a necessity because of the smaller size and high cost of the newer 4G mobile infrastructure. The company has set up limited 4G networks in more than 50 other cities, including Las Vegas, Dallas and Atlanta, but customers would not have access to 4G speeds in other areas.

Sprint officials have said that even in high-profile markets like Los Angeles, 4G coverage will initially be limited to the most concentrated areas, and buyers should consult coverage maps -- available when the network launches -- before they purchase a new handset.

In Los Angeles, 4G coverage will be available (to different extents) in the downtown area, Glendale, Pasadena, the Westside, the South Bay, "most" of San Fernando Valley, northern Orange County, and Long Beach, Sprint says.

In New York, the networks will cover all five boroughs, as well as parts of Long Island and Westchester County.

The company gave fewer details about coverage in the Bay Area, but said the networks would reach "from San Francisco to San Jose."

Sprint's competitors Verizon Wireless and AT&T have also announced plans to deploy 4G networks, though they're months behind Sprint. Verizon said it would launch 4G in 25-30 cities by the end of 2010, but will not have 4G handsets available until mid-2011. AT&T plans to deploy its 4G technology next year, but has announced that it will launch a faster and more advanced 3G network, called HSPA+, in the next several months. T-Mobile has launched HSPA+ sites in 65 metropolitan areas -- including Los Angeles -- but has not announced specific 4G plans.

-- David Sarno

Photo: HTC's EVO 4G smart phone. Credit: Sprint