Ina Fried

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Verizon 4G Network to Launch Sunday

Verizon Wireless announced on Wednesday that it will launch its 4G network on Sunday in 38 markets across the United States.

The company had shared most of its plans ahead of time. One of the unknowns, though, was what Verizon would charge for the service. Verizon said on Wednesday that pricing will start at $50 a month for 5GB of data (that’s $10 a month cheaper than Verizon currently charges for its 3G data service). The company also announced two 4G USB modems (4G-ready phones won’t be coming until next year).

The event is just now kicking off, with Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone going through the details.

“This announcement has been a long time coming,” Melone said, noting that the company announced its plans to use LTE at Mobile World Congress in 2009. At the time, he said, the company didn’t necessarily know that it would be the first with a significant 4G network.

Melone also took shots at competitors, some of whom are already billing their existing networks as either 4G or delivering near-4G speeds.

“This is the real deal,” Melone said. “Not all 4G is the same.”

Update, 9:15 am PT: More on pricing. Two data plans: 5GB for $50 and 10GB for $80. Anything more than that will be charged at $10 per GB.

“There’s no limit,” Melone said. “We’re not going to slow customers down if they want to use more.”

As for speeds, Verizon said it expects customers will get 5 to 12 megabits per second when downloading and 2 to 5 Mbps when uploading once the network is fully loaded. (Speeds should be faster early on, Melone said.)

The two modems, which will sell for $99 after rebates, also support Verizon’s 3G network in areas where 4G is not available. They will be available online and at Verizon stores, but not immediately at retailers like Best Buy or Radio Shack.

More devices (i.e., phones) will be out by the middle of next year, Melone said. Verizon will talk more about smartphones at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, a spokesman said.

9:25 am: On to Q&A.

Asked about pricing, Melone said that they expect many customers will find their usage is above 5GB and will opt for the $80 a month plan, but still wanted to entice some customers with the lower price plan. “We believe the combination of the two will meet the needs of most customers,” he said.

Consumers will be able to get alerts letting them know when they are at 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent of their data plan and they can also query to see how much data they have used.

As for shifting from 4G to 3G, there won’t be a hiccup. However, the caveat is that going from 3G to 4G, you stay 3G until you finish an active session.

We’re likely to hear about some 4G-specific services around CES, Melone said, hinting at some sort of video service. “Obviously the capabilities of this network lend themselves to video-based applications,” he said.

9:38 am: I asked a couple of questions. First, how will Verizon handle voice and data simultaneously. (LTE supports it but 3G doesn’t.)

Melone said that was part of the thinking in launching data modems before 4G smartphones. “One of the reasons why we are not going out with voice out of the gate is it creates complexities that don’t serve anyone,” he said. That said, Verizon’s plan is that initially voice-only calls will be placed on the 3G network, while data sessions will be on 4G when both are available. Eventually, both will move to LTE, he said.

My second question was on whether the speeds Melone talked about on a fully loaded network take into account having a hit device, like the iPhone.

“We expect to be successful and have lots of devices on this network,” Melone said, adding that the company designed the network to be able to handle that kind of usage.

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