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Verizon's next generation of speedy wireless set to debut in Tampa Bay

On Sunday, the heart of Tampa Bay joins 37 other metro areas as the first cities nationwide in which Verizon Wireless debuts its speedier fourth-generation, or "4G," network.

For many of you like me, who would not know a 4G from a squeegee, here's the bottom line. Certain folks — especially technology buffs and small businesses — will want 4G wireless service at once because it moves massive quantities of data quickly.

For many, that's a way of saying 4G will be a major productivity tool. For others, it means major leaps in mobile entertainment options like high-definition video or live TV streaming that's seamless, not herky jerky.

Florida, in fact, initially gets to enjoy greater access to Verizon's 4G LTE (that stands for "long term evolution") than any other state, with six major metro areas going live Sunday. Nine Florida airports — including Tampa International and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International — are among 60 airports nationwide that will offer 4G access.

At the start, Verizon's 4G footprint will extend only from the Gulf of Mexico to eastern Hillsborough County southward to the Manatee County line and extending north roughly to the Pasco County line. It includes Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

The 4G service also debuts Sunday in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Jacksonville. By 2013, the company expects to complete the 4G network nationwide.

The key difference between 4G and its predecessor, 3G, is speed. Chuck Hamby, Verizon Wireless spokesman in Tampa, puts it this way:

"If you are used to getting on a plane in New York and flying to Tokyo in 14 hours, this would be like reducing the time of that trip to 80 minutes."

At the beginning, Verizon's 4G network will be accessible by special modems ($100 after rebate) connected to computers, not phones. When Verizon begins offering 4G-compatible smart phones and service plans in January, demand by consumers should take off thanks to aggressive pricing, analysts said Wednesday.

Why focus on Verizon Wireless' debut of 4G here in Tampa Bay? Because it's the biggest and, by J.D. Power's assessment, the country's top-regarded mobile phone service. And thanks to its huge national infrastructure investment, Verizon very likely will quickly become the largest 4G player.

Still, Sprint Nextel (with partner company Clear) already offers 4G service here. T-Mobile claims a version of it, too. And MetroPCS says it will offer 4G LTE in Tampa Bay soon. AT&T is upgrading to a faster 3G service — fast enough some call it 4G — before starting a 4G LTE service next year.

Verizon will offer a $50 monthly 4G plan for 5 gigabytes of data. That's cheaper than its current 3G plan and Sprint Nextel Corp.'s comparable 4G offer by $10.

Like it or not, think of it all as another quantum leap in staying mobile and connected 24/7, faster than ever.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

.Fast Facts

Verizon's 4G service

Prices: A $50 monthly 4G plan for five gigabytes of data and an $80 monthly plan with a 10-gigabyte limit. Customers who exceed their cap pay $10 for each additional gigabyte of data. The company says it will alert customers when they are close to exceeding monthly limits.

Available: Starting Dec. 5 in 38 metro areas including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Offered initially to laptop users with special USB modems. 4G compatible smart phones and service plans will be offered next year.

Speed: About 10 times faster than its current 3G connection. To customers, Verizon says the service will feel like a wired connection. Verizon expects average data rates in real-world, loaded network environments to be 5 to 12 megabits per second on the downlink and 2 to 5 Mbps on the uplink.

Requires: Purchase of a $100 modem (after $50 rebate) with a two-year contract.

Do you live on a 4G street? Use this map:

Verizon's next generation of speedy wireless set to debut in Tampa Bay 12/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 2, 2010 11:01am]
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