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AT&T offers 4G LTE service to Akron-Canton area first in Ohio

By Betty Lin-Fisher
Beacon Journal business writer

Akron and Canton on Thursday became the first two markets in Ohio to get AT&T’s expanded and fastest wireless 4G LTE network.

“Akron/Canton is a growing area with investment in stores and new distribution. It’s a good market for us,” said Larry Evans, AT&T vice president/general manager for the tri-state area that includes Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, in a phone interview Thursday. The upgrades will be formally announced today at an event in Stow.

AT&T officials said the coverage area is bounded by Stow to the north, Canton to the south, Fairlawn to the west and Ravenna to the east.

Evans said AT&T is building toward offering the 4G LTE service in Cleveland by June. Timetables for coverage in other parts of the state have not been announced, but the company’s goal is nationwide coverage in 2013.

4G LTE technology promises mobile Internet speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G on 4G LTE-capable devices, according to AT&T.

Evans said that while AT&T’s competitors offered their 4G LTE networks earlier, AT&T built upon its large network and has the nation’s largest geographic area for the faster network, covering nearly 250 million people.

“We feel we have a better 4G experience with HSPA+,” Evans said, referring to the level often known as 4G.

Verizon Wireless on Wednesday announced it had expanded its existing 4G LTE network to Cleveland. The company started its 4G LTE network launches in 2010 and already includes the Akron area.

Evans said Verizon doesn’t have the HSPA+ or 4G platform, so by taking extra time to enhance its entire network, AT&T customers will be able to get faster speeds in more places.

“If the consumer launches LTE and they drive off the Akron network, they are still on a 4G network, and it’s three times faster than our competitor’s 3G,” he said.

To upgrade the network, AT&T workers added new equipment to each cell tower in the area, Evans said.

AT&T estimates it has spent more than $1.4 billion in the past three years in Ohio to expand its wireline (land) and wireless network, spokeswoman Holly Hollingsworth said. Numbers are not broken out by regions.

A data center in Akron — one of only nine such facilities in the United States — was not a factor in the upgrades to the 4G LTE network, Hollingsworth said. That center is used to send all text messages and mobile data for AT&T’s customers from Ohio to the East Coast and is used for the 2G and 3G network, she said.

Customers want speed, Evans said.

“Data is being consumed as fast as we could build it,” he said.

In a news release, state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, said investments such as AT&T’s are one of the reasons he sponsored Senate Bill 271, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.

He said the bill “creates a regulatory environment that encourages investments like this, assuring our state attracts the jobs Ohioans need. This investment in fast, mobile, Internet capability is exactly what we need in order to allow businesses and consumers to remain competitive.”

But consumer advocates have criticized the bill. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the state’s residential utility advocate, said the law would allow some telephone companies to withdraw regulated basic telephone service from their customers or charge customers whatever they choose.

Companies could discontinue basic land-line service beginning in 2013 in areas deemed competitive by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. An area could be deemed competitive if at least two telecommunications companies offer such services as cell phone, cable, Internet or digital phone service there.

AT&T spokeswoman Sarah Briggs said the utility has lost 65 percent of its wireline, or landline, telephone service in Ohio from 2000 to 2011.

Briggs said landlines still would be available to consumers, but perhaps offered as one of a bundle of services. Several companies also offer lifeline or basic service for senior citizens through cell phones, she said.

“We would like to invest money in the growing wireless business that consumers now demand,” she said. “The days of the monopoly-owned telephone company are way gone.”

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com.