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Samsung Intros LTE Phone

The SCH-r900, to be offered by prepaid provider MetroPCS, upstages the buzz around Sprint's 4G Android phone at the CTIA Wireless show.

Samsung unveiled the SCH-r900 Long Term Evolution phone, scheduled to be the first LTE phone available in the United States, at the CTIA Wireless show. Samsung also announced that its handset will be offered by prepaid provider MetroPCS.

Not only did the Samsung handset upstage Sprint's EVO, which captured a lot of buzz earlier at CTIA, but it also places the SCH-r900 and MetroPCS ahead of Verizon Wireless, which plans to offer LTE handsets for its nationwide 4G network next year.

Samsung said its LTE handset is a multi-mode CDMA/LTE device with robust real-time streaming video-on-demand capabilities, Web browsing, and music downloading. Samsung said the device is part of its collaboration with MetroPCS to provide LTE handsets, infrastructure, and services for the carrier.

"MetroPCS plans to initially deploy a commercial LTE network in various metropolitan markets," the firms said, adding the deployment will take place "in the second half of 2010."

Last August, Verizon Wireless said it had successfully tested Samsung devices on its trial LTE installations in Boston and Seattle. Verizon Wireless, however, is using Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as its main infrastructure providers.

At this point in the race to roll out true 4G service, the firms are fighting more for bragging rights than for actual market share. Sprint -- with its majority ownership of the Clearwire WiMax network -- is clearly in the lead. It has deployed mobile WiMax in several U.S. cities and its HTC-manufactured EVO handset is scheduled to be available for delivery this summer.

Verizon Wireless, which is 55% owned by Verizon Communications and 45% by Vodafone Group, has said it plans to roll out its LTE service in as many as 30 urban areas later this year. The service is likely to debut with data cards and USB dongles, with handsets slated to be available next year.

The big problem with data cards and dongles is they are designed for data and not for easy voice calling. Verizon is moving towards a solution to the tardiness of LTE handsets by offering Skype's VoIP service on nine of its smartphones. The Verizon-Skype service made its debut Thursday on Blackberry and Android phones.

Earlier, Verizon Wireless said the handsets it was testing for its LTE network included ST-Ericsson, Motorola, Qualcomm, and LG, in addition to Samsung.

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