July 28--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston-area AT&T customers may have noticed the appearance of three new letters on their smartphones last week: LTE.
LTE, which stands for long-term evolution, is the latest form of commercial high-speed wireless communication network technologies. It offers download and mobile browsing speeds 10 times faster than older 3G networks.
About one-quarter of mobile phone users have LTE-capable phones, but access to the service has been limited across West Virginia.
Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier by number of subscribers, already offers 4G LTE coverage in eight West Virginia cities, including Charleston, Huntington, Beckley and Morgantown.
But iPhone users, who have mostly purchased their phones through AT&T, did not see West Virginia LTE service until April, when it was launched in Morgantown. The company launched the service in Huntington the following month.
AT&T has not made any additional announcements regarding new West Virginia LTE service areas since the Huntington rollout, but customers last week began noticing their phones started picking up the service in the Charleston area.
After being asked about the new LTE connections, an AT&T spokeswoman confirmed the company was in the final stages of testing the service in the Kanawha Valley.
"AT&T is actively testing our 4G LTE network in Charleston, and customers with 4G LTE capable devices may be experiencing the service in those areas," spokeswoman Gayle Kansagor said.
Kansagor said the company would not officially announce that the service is online until after all preliminary equipment and network testing is complete.
"As you can imagine, we do a lot of network testing before officially launching LTE in any area," she said.
AT&T has spent $98 billion over the last 5 years upgrading its U.S. wireless network. So far, it has launched LTE service in 336 markets nationwide, covering more than 225 million people.
While Verizon's LTE network covers more territory, the LTE network being rolled out by AT&T has performed better in several market tests.
A recent market survey by magazines PC World and Tech Hive found AT&T's LTE network averaged download speeds of 13.15 megabytes per second, and upload speeds of 6.45 megabytes per second.
Verizon's LTE network delivered a 9.61-megabytes-per-second download speed and upload speed of 5.47, according to the study.
To use the service, consumers also need to have an LTE-capable smartphone.
Apple's iPhone 5 is the only version of that company's smartphone capable of using the high-speed network. Other LTE-ready phones include the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the HTC One.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.
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