Can Spectrum Help AT&T Catch Up to Verizon?

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Verizon’s (NYSE:VZ) Chief Executive Officer Fran Shammo announced at the Wells Fargo Securities Technology Media & Telecom Conference that the carrier’s LTE network deployment will be completed by the middle of 2013, six months earlier than the company’s prior prediction and 18 months earlier than AT&T (NYSE:T).

The LTE network, which gives customers faster service, will match Verizon’s current nationwide 3G coverage completely. The carrier began its coverage in mid-2011, and it now intends to deliver 4G service to 260 million people by the end of this year.

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In comparison, AT&T plans to extend its 4G LTE coverage to 300 million customers in the United States by the end of 2014; its prior estimate had been 250 million customers covered by the end of 2013.

AT&T has lagged behind Verizon in extending the service across the nation from the beginning. Even after investing more $115 billion to enhance its wireless and wired network over the last five years, AT&T has brought coverage to new markets at a slower rate than its rival. Back in September, the nation’s second-largest carrier announced that it would bring coverage to 70 million more customers, far below Verizon’s expectations.

Spectrum is the one metric in which AT&T can out compete its rival; once regulatory procedures have been completed, the company will have 118 megahertz of spectrum available across the nation, more than Verizon’s 105 MHz. Yet at the conference, Shammo said that Verizon’s $3.9 billion purchase of 20 Mhz of spectrum approved by the Federal Communications Commission in August, would give company enough spectrum for the next five years.

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