Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) has hinted that it may roll out handsets based on the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless broadband standard by mid-2011. This is about six months earlier than previous expectations and roughly three to six months following the carrier’s planned 4G LTE network launch. 

According to the company’s chief technology officer, the initial LTE handsets will feature dual radio chipsets, which will enable the phones to run on both LTE and the existing CDMA technology based 3G network. However, Verizon plans to introduce LTE data cards and modems for laptops before launching the dual-mode (3G/4G capable) handsets.
This strategy is similar to Sprint Nextel (S), which is aggressively rolling out USB data cards, dual-mode modems and routers for laptop users who connect to its 4G WiMax network. Sprint recently revealed its plan to unveil its first 4G smartphone during the first-half of 2010, months ahead of market expectations. 

The dual-mode smartphone from Sprint, rumored to be “HTC Supersonic”, is expected to run on Google’s (GOOG) Android platform. It will also be the first 4G compatible phone in the US. 

Verizon recently completed successful field trials of its LTE network in Boston and Seattle demonstrating encouraging throughput levels. The trials delivered peak downlink speeds of 40 to 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and peak uplink speeds of 20 to 25 Mbps. However, Verizon expects average downlink speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps in a practical setting. 

Verizon plans to commercially launch its 4G LTE services in late 2010 across 25 to 30 markets, ahead of archrival AT&T’s (T) scheduled LTE network launch in 2011. The carrier targets to expand its LTE footprint to 50-60 markets by late 2011. AT&T, which is currently focused on deploying 3G HSPA 7.2 network, is expected to begin testing LTE this year. 

While Verizon may get a chance to offer Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone in future, the 4G LTE phone represents a major boost for the operator as it will reap full advantage of the superfast network.
However, Verizon indicated that LTE data plans for smartphones may come with tiered (or metered) pricing as opposed to the existing intensely popular unlimited data plans. Under the metered data plans, tariffs will be levied on the basis of data consumption, which might discourage customers from using huge volumes of data.
Read the full analyst report on “VZ”
Read the full analyst report on “S”
Read the full analyst report on “GOOG”
Read the full analyst report on “T”
Read the full analyst report on “AAPL”
Zacks Investment Research