AT&T, Verizon expanding LTE ahead of iPhone 5 launch

Bolstering their 4G offerings

iPhone 5 4G LTE

The launch of the iPhone 5 is just around the corner, and as the first iPhone with 4G LTE support, it's an exciting milestone for Apple.

Major carriers have taken note, of course, and are reportedly ramping up their LTE offerings as the iPhone 5 release inches closer.

AT&T and Verizon have both increased LTE coverage across the U.S., with AT&T adding eight additional cities, including Detroit's metro area, Portland, and Sacramento, Calif.

Verizon is adding dozens of towns (from Idaho to Ohio) to their lists of those with LTE service, as well.

The two major carriers have been planning to increase their LTE offerings all year - AT&T acquired NextWave Wireless in August with the hopes of expanding LTE service, and Verizon announced plans to add 34 more 4G LTE markets in the U.S. later that month.

Now it seems these plans have come to fruition just in time, with the iPhone 5 release just a day away.

Verizon still ahead of AT&T

As of Sept. 1, Verizon offered 4G LTE in 371 markets, while AT&T served LTE to 50 markets, and Thursday's news will only serve to tip that balance further in Verizon's favor.

Jefferies & Co. analyst Thomas Seitz said earlier in September that Verizon's significant lead - its LTE network reportedly covers more than every other U.S. carrier combined - "could lead to a share shift towards Verizon, primarily at AT&T's expense."

AT&T had a hefty head start in exclusive iPhone sales, yet its lead wasn't ruined when the Apple handset finally made its way to other carriers.

But with Verizon offering significantly better 4G LTE coverage, AT&T customers whose contracts are ending could be tempted to jump ship to Verizon.

iPhone 5 playing LTE catch-up

Despite the buzz surrounding the iPhone 5 (we expect nothing less with every new Apple release), the new iPhone may not find it so easy to stand out from the pack this time.

The iPhone 5's main rivals, Samsung's Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X (not to mention the unreleased Nokia Lumia 920), are all 4G LTE-compatible, making it less an advantage and more of a given for the iPhone 5.

Check out TechRadar's comparison of all four phones for a more in-depth look at how they stack up.

The iPhone 5 release is taking place on Sept. 21, and pre-orders were already selling out by Sept. 17.

That means if you're not already camped out on the street outside an Apple store, you may be waiting even longer for the iPhone 5.

Via iMore (1), (2)