AT&T's CTO has a blog post indirectly critiquing Verizon Wireless's early LTE launch: I pretty much agree entirely with this John Donovan post. Verizon's commitment to CDMA left it without a reasonable path to future higher speeds in 3G because Qualcomm's EVDO path wasn't compelling enough, and Verizon clearly wanted the worldwide advantage of converging on GSM.
That leaves Verizon stuck at about 3 Mbps downstream with EVDO Rev. A. Verizon Wireless clearly and testably has the most robust and most thorough 2G and 3G network coverage in the US. That's still an advantage and will remain one on the voice side and for a large number of users for whom consistency is more important than speed.
But its early launch of LTE is driven by a need to have a higher speed number to push to businesses and consumers while AT&T and T-Mobile complete rolling out HSPA 7.2 and HSPA+ (21 Mbps), respectively. These evolutionary 3G HSPA flavors provide most of the advantage of first-generation LTE, including somewhat reduced latency, while preserving full backwards compatibility all the way down to GSM rates.
AT&T CTO is pushing the message that moving from LTE speeds to EVDO Rev. A rates will be jarring to customers in terms of what's possible. I agree. The difference is so huge that they are effectively different networks—this is a similar problem Clearwire and Sprint have with 3G/4G converged service plans.
However, Donovan doesn't mention the three other advantages of LTE: capacity, coverage, and latency. Higher bandwidth doesn't just mean that everyone gets greater speed; rather, it means that there's more potential to serve simultaneous users at greater speeds. That's often just as important as peak data rates. Coverage is a factor, because the 700 MHz networks can reach further and penetrate indoors better than 850, 1700, 1900, and 2100 MHz networks.
And latency is huge: lower latency makes networks appear faster because the time for each initial connection for every transaction is reduced. LTE promises very low latency, and HSPA delivers a decent part of that. Reduced latency equates to better video streaming, crisper phone calls, and more responsive Web browsing.
AT&T will benefit from the coverage and capacity issues, based on customer complaints, more than Verizon. But an early LTE deployment focused on speed doesn't provide the full picture of LTE's potential, and it hides the gap Verizon will have for at least three years, if not longer, between current 3G speeds and its LTE promise.
Update: Clearwire's chief commercial office weighs in with a swipe on Verizon's LTE pricing.