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Verizon fires up faster data network in region

Verizon Wireless rolled out its 4G LTE wireless data network in the Buffalo Niagara region Thursday, promising higher speeds for Internet surfing and file downloading for its customers.

Users must have a 4G LTE-capable smartphone, tablet or other device to take advantage of the higher network speeds.

The new network covers much of the population of Erie County and a small part of Niagara County, and the carrier plans to expand its reach here in the months to come.

"It's going to be an ongoing project," said John O'Malley, upstate New York spokesman for Verizon Wireless.

Verizon's 4G LTE, which stands for fourth-generation Long Term Evolution, is the latest volley in the continuing network arms race among the nation's largest wireless providers.

As Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile move to upgrade their networks from a 3G to a 4G standard, each claims to have the fastest or largest fourth-generation network.

But 4G means different things to the different carriers, muddying the definition of what constitutes true 4G, analysts say.

"4G is now officially meaningless," Will Strauss, a wireless analyst and president of Forward Concepts, in Tempe, Ariz., told Bloomberg News this spring.

Sprint has its WiMax network, while AT&T and T-Mobile deployed HSPA , but Verizon said its 4G LTE network is a real technological step forward. AT&T and Sprint are beginning to build out their own LTE networks, while T-Mobile's LTE plans are less clear.

The independent company RootMetrics tests wireless network performance in markets across the country. This year, in the first 15 markets where RootMetrics conducted testing, Verizon earned the highest overall score for the performance of its LTE network.

When RootMetrics got to Buffalo, where Verizon had not deployed LTE, AT&T finished on top in the company's testing.

In upstate New York, Rochester got 4G LTE service in December, when Verizon began its national deployment, while Syracuse, Albany and Ithaca received it in August.

The rollout in Buffalo was delayed because of interference from analog TV signals from Ontario, O'Malley said. Canadian broadcasters were required to switch to a digital signal at the end of August, and Verizon made plans to introduce LTE service here soon after.

Verizon customers can visit the carrier's website, or a Verizon Wireless store, to find out if their communication device is capable of receiving a 4G LTE signal.

Even some newer smartphones, such as the iPhone 4S, are not equipped for the new service, O'Malley said.

The network that went live Thursday covers an area from Hamburg and Orchard Park in the south to the eastern Grand Island, Tonawanda and Lockport areas in the north and east to Clarence, Cheektowaga and Depew. Verizon will expand local coverage over the next few months.

Verizon expects to reach 178 markets by the middle of next month and to have full national LTE coverage by the end of 2013.

Customers who are using a 4G-capable device but leave a 4G LTE coverage area automatically connect to Verizon's 3G network, O'Malley said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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