Verizon exec slips, suggests 4G LTE-equipped iPhone to launch this year

Following a brief unconfirmed nationwide outage suffered by Verizon Wireless’s 4G LTE network on Tuesday morning, the carrier seemingly sought to draw attention to LTE expansion rather than the growing pains that have repeatedly plagued its next-generation wireless network. While speaking with Dow Jones Newswires on Tuesday, Verizon Wireless chief technical officer David Small said the carrier plans to double its LTE coverage by the end of 2012. “By the end of the year, our plan is to be in at least 400 markets across the country,” Small said, suggesting that approximately 260 million Americans would then be covered by Verizon 4G. Read on for more.

Verizon had already announced plans to cover roughly 250 million Americans by year’s end, so the new goal is only slightly more ambitious. What could be significantly more ambitious considering just 7% of smartphones sold last quarter were equipped with LTE, was Small’s statement that for the remainder of 2012, Verizon Wireless will only release 4G LTE-equipped smartphones.

Small would not elaborate and Apple wouldn’t confirm anything, but Verizon Wireless is expected to launch Apple’s sixth-generation iPhone later this year along with AT&T and Sprint in the United States. If the nation’s top carrier will only launch 4G LTE smartphones for the rest of 2012, Apple’s next iPhone would certainly have to fall into that category.

The new iPhone has been rumored to include an embedded LTE radio on several occasions, but Small’s statement is the closest we’ve come so far to a confirmation from a carrier. The next-generation iPhone is also expected to feature a faster processor, a larger display and a unibody aluminum case. BGR exclusively reported this past December that the handset will also feature a redesigned antenna system, and it will launch this coming fall.

Verizon confirmed to Dow Jones Newswires that just 5% of its subscribers currently utilize 4G LTE devices.

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