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Verizon: 4G is (mostly) everywhere, but we need to make it faster

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(Read caption) Verizon Wireless announced this week that it will begin making improvements to speed up its 4G LTE network, which now covers about 95% of the US population. Here, a photo illustration shows the Verizon icon on a smart phone.

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Verizon Wireless announced this week that it’s confident in its 4G network -- so confident, in fact, that it’s going to start slowly retiring the slower 3G network next year.

If you don’t have a 4G smart phone, don’t worry: Verizon plans to keep the 3G network up and running at least through 2019, although it will slowly begin turning 3G signals into 4G signals in some cities. The company announced in a blog post on Thursday that its 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network is basically complete -- it now reaches 500 US markets and covers more than 95 percent of the US population. Verizon now turns its attention to making upgrades to the network to try to address speed issues.

Verizon was the first US provider to roll out a 4G network -- the company began offering service back in 2010 -- but third-party tests say AT&T’s data service is faster as of this year. Scott Moritz at Bloomberg reports that this is mainly due to congestion: Verizon has added customers more quickly than other providers, and all those extra devices suck up the once-plentiful bandwidth.

To remedy that, Verizon is eyeing advanced wireless services (AWS), a slice of spectrum that it acquired last year. AWS isn’t a new network; it’s just a way to improve the existing LTE service so it can handle more customers without becoming congested. Verizon says the improvements, which should take effect by the end of the year, will give its LTE network twice the current capacity and double the speed, at which point it'll be referred to as LTE-Advanced. Samsung has already announced a new version of the Galaxy S4 smart phone that’ll work with LTE-Advanced. The new Galaxy S4 will land in South Korea first, where the LTE network is more mature, before making its way to the US.

Verizon also plans to start deploying “small cells” later this year in densely populated cities. These new towers will relieve congestion in places like New York and San Francisco -- areas where millions of customers are putting strain on LTE networks. Between small cells and the introduction of LTE-Advanced service in parts of the network, Verizon hopes it’ll be able to relieve congestion even as more customers join its network.

It’s worth mentioning that Verizon isn’t the only provider with big plans. The other major cell providers -- AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile -- have promised to turn on LTE-Advanced on their networks in the coming months and years, too.

Do you have 4G service, from Verizon or any other provider, in your area? Is it snappy or sluggish? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter@jeffwardbailey.

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