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Apple and LTE: What to Expect

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Have you ever used LTE? If you live in the U.S. and you consider the four major carriers, using LTE means Verizon Wireless (VZ), which has launched LTE in most major cities. Verizon has at least three smartphones, two mobile hotspots and one tablet available with LTE, with many more LTE products coming in the next few weeks alone.

The speeds available on Verizon's LTE network are dramatically superior to any other cellular data network. I typically get 15-20 meg down and 7-12 meg up. More importantly, latency is what counts for most experiences, including Voice over IP (VoIP) and video chat.The latency on Verizon's LTE is about four times better (i.e,. lower) than other cellular data networks.

AT&T (T) is set to launch LTE in the next few weeks, initially in five cities followed by another 10 cities in the fourth quarter. Both Verizon and AT&T look to be "done" with building out LTE for about 95% of the U.S. population by the end of 2013. Sprint (S) and its 50%-owned Clearwire (CLWR) are also looking to add LTE starting perhaps by the end of 2012, but realistically in 2013.

If you want to buy a smartphone or tablet today with embedded LTE, your only choice is Android. No iOS, no BlackBerry from Research In Motion (RIMM), no Microsoft (MSFT) Windows.

How soon does Apple (GGOG) want to engage with Google's (GOOG) Android on the LTE playing field? If history is any guide, probably not until closer to mid-2012. Here are the issues.

1. Apple's radio technology conservatism

Apple is a very innovative company in many areas, including industrial design, software and services. One area in which Apple is very conservative, however, is with respect to adopting new radio technologies. Specifically, when the first iPhone launched in 2007, it was EDGE only, despite that HSPA ("3G") was commonplace in the market.

Here is one of the problems with this theory: It is based on exactly one data point, the first iPhone in 2007 as I mentioned. We talk about Apple being so conservative in its choice of radio technology, but seriously -- one data point?

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