(VZ) Verizon Communications Expands LTE Reach

The wireless leader Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) is expanding its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks to more cities. The LTE offers mobile broadband download speeds of 5–12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2–5 Mbps.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone Group PLC (VOD), will add 28 new cities to its nationwide LTE network and expand its coverage to the existing 11 markets this week. With this expansion, the company’s coverage will increase to 258 markets, implying more than two-thirds of the U.S. population.

This development is in line with Verizon’s target of expanding 4G networks to 400 markets by the end of this year and the entire nationwide 3G footprint by the middle of next year.

Verizon Wireless is way ahead of its rivals AT&T Inc. (T), Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and T-Mobile USA in deploying LTE networks. The LTE coverage of AT&T, the second-largest U.S. mobile service, has reached 35 markets with 74 million Americans. The company expects this number to double by the end of this year and deployment to reach 80% of the U.S. population by 2013. Further, AT&T plans to introduce LTEin several markets by this summer, bringing the total number to 40.

Sprint, the third-largest wireless operator, plans to launch its own LTE networks in six markets by mid-year and expects to complete the deployment by the end of the next year. The fourth wireless provider T-Mobile USA, unit of Deutsche Telekom (DTEGY), plans to upgrade to LTE networks in 2013.

To support its 4G services, Verizon has a rich collection of 4G LTE devices including tablets, mobile hotspots and smartphones. The recently announced Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX, the Motorola Droid 4, the upcoming Droid Incredible 4G LTE and the Samsung Galaxy S III will further boosts its incredible portfolio. Additionally, Verizon recently introduced in-home wireless broadband service “HomeFusion Broadband” based on LTE technology in some rural and remote homes, which do not have access to DSL or cables.

The surging demand for smartphones, tablets and other devices signals a new wave in the industry and opportunities for Verizon to expand. The rapidly growing 4G services will lift the company’s data revenue going forward.

Nevertheless, LTE poses a major risk to Verizon’s wireless segment as the other wireless service providers may delay their deployment of LTE or change their selection and adopt different next-generation technologies, including those that are incompatible with Verizon.

We are maintaining our long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock. Currently, the stock retains the Zacks #3 (Hold) Rank for the short term (1–3 months).

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