Can AT&T Ever Catch Up to Verizon?

Verizon (NYSE:VZ) initiated high-speed LTE coverage as part of its wireless network long before any of its competitors, even AT&T (NYSE:T). And despite its increasingly aggressive expansion efforts, AT&T’s LTE network still lags that of the nation’s largest carrier by a wide margin.

Including its recent expansion in Virginia, Verizon provides LTE service in more than 440 markets, covering approximately 250 million people. Two hundred fifty million people covered is AT&T’s target for the end of next year. Additionally, Verizon plans to finish its LTE rollout halfway through 2013. At that rate, its service expansion will be completed ahead of schedule and 18 months ahead of AT&T.

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Although the company is more than a year behind Verizon, AT&T has doubled the reach of its LTE network in the past year, increasing its coverage to 150 million people in 103 markets across the United States. This week, the wireless carrier announced further expansions in Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Tacoma, Washington; the Twin Cities of Minnesota; and several other locations.

Sprint (NYSE:S) is even further behind Verizon than AT&T: its LTE network is currently available in only 32 cities. But the company has big expansion plans as well. In October, the carrier said its service would reach an additional 22 markets, including San Francisco, “in the coming months.” Nine additional markets were announced last week. For Sprint, the pressure to expand has been increased by the release of the LTE-enabled iPhone 5, as many customers are waiting to purchase the phone until the service is available their area. Sprint is hoping to reach 100 markets sometime in the near future, although the company has not given a timeline for long-term expansion.

While AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are racing to expand their LTE networks, Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile is still focusing on its HSPA+ expansion. The company does not have plans to begin LTE coverage until next year.

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