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ABOUT AT&T WIRELESS
What: Today, AT&T flips the switch on 4G LTE service in Chattanooga.
Coverage: 292 million people are covered by AT&T's HSPA+ and LTE networks.
Investment: AT&T spent $1.4 billion from 2010 through 2012 on both its wireless and wired networks in Tennessee. Over the past five years, the company spent nearly $98 billion across the U.S. on a variety of programs.
Wireless hotspots: 32,000 in the U.S., 402,000 across the world.
If you go: AT&T will unveil its new network today at 8 a.m. today in its Gunbarel Road store.
AT&T has announced that it has turned on LTE in Chattanooga earlier than expected. The faster mobile speeds, which are about 10 times quicker than 3G service, should become automatically available on compatible devices.
The company initially planned to roll out the faster 4G cellular speeds before the end of summer, but activated the new network before summer even started.
MaryStewart Lewis, AT&T's regional director for external affairs in Tennessee, touted the increased rural broadband access that the faster 4G speeds will bring to East Tennessee.
"For many customers, especially rural residents with access to only satellite and dial-up broadband service, 4G LTE service provides an affordable high speed Internet access that fits their needs and provides fast Internet speeds like those available in larger cities," Lewis said.
Today's announcement is the result of nearly $1.4 billion that AT&T has spent on both its wireless and wired networks in Tennessee from 2010 through 2012.
"For customers living in suburban and urban areas with more high speed broadband service options, the AT&T 4G LTE network affords new competitive high-speed broadband choices," Lewis said.
Though AT&T appears to be moving into the market dominated by existing broadband providers like Comcast, EPB and its own U-Verse Internet service, its wireless users will have to contend with more stringent limits on data usage compared to wired Internet customers. Basic data plans are capped by AT&T, ruling out heavy HD movie streaming, online gaming or other data-intensive tasks on the go.
However, for customers who don't have access to high speed wired broadband, 4G wireless data plans -- like those already offered in the region by Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T -- offer another option.
AT&T is a bit late to the LTE party. Verizon already turned on LTE service in Chattanooga back in 2011, and T-Mobile offers 4G service through a boosted version of HSPA+, which achieves speeds almost as fast as LTE.
Sprint, which is even farther behind the times, has not announced when it will activate LTE in Chattanooga.
Being tardy has its advantages, however. Many phones and tablets are available that are compatible with the 4G standard, like the popular Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One and the Apple iPhone 5.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke cheered the job-creating potential of AT&T's faster mobile data speeds.
"With the addition of this infrastructure, our city becomes even more attractive to potential employers," Berke said. "Today's announcement is just another reason that Chattanooga is a great place for jobs."
For customers with no access to 4G, AT&T also offers what it calls the largest Wi-Fi network in the U.S, which includes 32,000 hotspots at restaurants, hotels, bookstores and retailers. The company could not list where those hotspots are in the Chattanooga area, but noted that Wi-Fi use doesn't count against monthly data plans.
"This is an investment for the future in Chattanooga," said Hamilton Countty Mayor Jim Coppinger. "In an information-driven economy, the ability for the people of this region to have access to the latest communications technology is critical.