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Anchorage gets 'ultra-fast' 4G LTE wireless network from AT&T

Suzanna CaldwellAlaska Dispatch News

Judging by their ads, it seems like every telecommunication company in Alaska has the fastest wireless Internet speed, whether at home or via smartphones. But AT&T is the first company to actually have the infrastructure to back it up, at least when it comes to mobile Internet devices in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city.

AT&T announced this week the completion of its 4G Long Term Evolution system (LTE), billed as ultra-fast and the latest generation of wireless technology. It's the first such network in Alaska.

AT&T said the system will allow faster speeds, both in terms of downloads and latency -- or the processing time it takes to move data through a network.

Scott Meyers, AT&T director of sales in Alaska, said the speed -- about 10-15 megabits per second -- is comparable to land-line based Internet.

“Customers will be able to access rich content without buffering,” Meyers said. “If customers watch a YouTube on LTE, they don't have to wait for it to buffer.”

AT&T customers with LTE-enabled devices would have noticed a difference in speed starting last week. The network only works with phones and tablets enabled to use it. Meyers said AT&T has been selling those devices for about a year in preparation for the new system.

“Honestly, if we turn on an LTE network and we have no LTE phones, why bother?” he said.

Phones that are LTE compatible include the Motorola Atrix HD, Sony Experia ion, Samsung Focus 2 and the Nokia Lumia 900.

Phones that aren’t LTE enabled will not notice a speed increase. That includes the popular iPhone 4S. The newest iPad, however, is LTE enabled.

Meyer said the LTE puts Anchorage on the “cutting edge.” Seattle and Portland, Ore. are still in the process of getting AT&T LTE networks running. LTE has been touted as important for telemedicine because video messaging will be faster and more efficient.

AT&T has spent $650 million in Alaska over the last three years to upgrade its wireless network according to Meyers. He said AT&T remains committed to upgrading Alaska's wireless network and that it plans to expand the LTE service in the “next couple of years.”

Alaska Communications spokeswoman Heather Cavanaugh said her company is in the process of finalizing its own 4G LTE system. The company should make announcement soon, she said, probably by the end of the year.

“We're making sure we're doing thorough testing so our customers have the best quality experience possible,” she said.

GCI, the state's largest telecommunication company, only has a 4G network according to spokesman David Morris. They're focusing their efforts on the Alaska Wireless Network, he said, which would combine network systems with ACS for broad wireless coverage across the state. 

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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