- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - AT&T Inc. says it is on track to start rolling out its next-generation wireless technology in the second half of this year; in the meantime, the company joined handset makers Wednesday to show off several smart phones that will take advantage of a speedier version of the current network.

AT&T previously said it planned to roll out the next-generation LTE, or Long Term Evolution, technology this year. But the head of AT&T’s consumer business, Ralph De La Vega, had not narrowed it down to the second half until Wednesday. The company also said it expects to finish the new network by the end of 2013, sooner than it had expected.

LTE is a standard technology behind the next-generation cellular networks, known as 4G. It is designed from the ground up to carry data. Network operators expect not just higher speeds but lower operational costs with LTE.

At a developer summit in Las Vegas ahead of the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, De La Vega said AT&T has nearly finished its rollout of HSPA+, an upgraded 3G network that AT&T considers part of its 4G network because it offers similar speeds.

After initially resisting, the International Telecommunications Union, a standards-setting body, has approved the practice of calling upgraded 3G networks “4G” _ something that AT&T competitor T-Mobile USA also does.

Motorola Mobility Inc., HTC Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. showed off several upcoming smart phones that will run on AT&T’s HSPA+ network.

All the phones are slated to have large touch screens and version 2.2 of Google Inc.’s Android operating software, known as Froyo. They will all support HTML5, which is a catch phrase for an updated set of rules and specifications used by website programmers; HTML5 includes video playback and other graphics-intensive features.

Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha unveiled one of them, the Atrix 4G. The companies are calling it “the most powerful smart phone ever,” saying it deserves this title because it includes a dual-core processor that will give it about 2 gigahertz of computing power and 1 gigabyte of RAM _ about twice as much as many existing smart phones.

The phone also has a tiny fingerprint-recognition pad on the back that can be used to disable others from unlocking the phone.

Jha said the Atrix will work with a separate docking station that is essentially a laptop shell that weighs 2.4 pounds and has 11.6-inch screen and a full-sized keyboard. The Atrix plugs into two ports in the hinge behind the dock’s screen. It comes with Motorola’s Webtop application, and users can access features of the phone on the larger screen and pull up a standard computer browser such as Firefox alongside it.

De La Vega gave The Associated Press an impromptu demo of the product during an interview, starting a clip of the animated movie “Despicable Me” on the Atrix and then docking it. The same clip began playing on the larger screen. On both screens, the video looked crisp and bright.

Initially, the phone will run Froyo, but De La Vega said it can eventually be upgraded to Honeycomb, an upcoming version of Android that will be more geared toward tablet computers than the current versions, which were designed for smart phones.

De La Vega said the Atrix and dock will be available in the first quarter and will cost $199 and $299, respectively, when purchased with a two-year AT&T service contract and data plan. There will also be a discount to customers who buy both in a bundle.

AT&T plans to start selling several HSPA+ phones and other devices such as laptop cards and a tablet computer from Motorola in the first half of the year. It will then begin selling LTE phones and other LTE-enabled devices that will use the upcoming network but run on HSPA+ when LTE is not available. In all, it will roll out 20 HSPA+ and LTE devices this year.

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