Verizon Wireless has officially completed the technical trials of its new 4G LTE network, and is now moving on to “friendly user trials” in five cities.

Verizon made the announcement this week in a conference call with hardware and software partners who will be designing devices for the 4G network, which Verizon is building with the valuable 700MHz spectrum that it bought in the big FCC auction in 2008.

David Clevenger, executive director of public affairs at Verizon Wireless, stated, “Technical trials are staged [and] tiered in accordance with industry standards. They’re [now] completed.”

The technical trials had been taking place throughout 2010 in two cities, Boston and Seattle. In a video report on the Boston trials, which Verizon posted on YouTube (see below), the speeds reported were 5-12 Mbps for downloads and 2-5 Mbps for uploads. That’s a significant jump from 3G speeds, which typically top out at 1.5Mbps down and 0.5 Mbps up.

The end of the technical trials means Verizon continues to make progress as it races toward its own self-imposed deadline of rolling out 4G in 25-30 markets by the end of 2010. The company says it’s still on track.

“The next phase is ‘friendly user trials,’ which means we’re looking for feedback on the network,” said Clevenger. The user testing will expand to five cities, but Verizon isn’t naming the three additional cities yet.

It’s also not clear who the “users” will be in the testing.

Michelle Gilbert of Verizon Wireless public relations, said, “Verizon Wireless is tapping select users in select cities for the friendly user trials, but is not disclosing details about these users.”

Presumably, Verizon employees will be the primary testers, as well as some of the Verizon partners who are building LTE gear.

The AT&T factor

Meanwhile, this week AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNBC that AT&T will invest “$19 billion this year, more than any company in the U.S.” on expanding its mobile broadband network. AT&T is focusing on upgrading its existing 3G network with HSPA+ for a speed boost, but it will not begin the technical trials of its LTE 4G network until 2011. That will put it 18-24 months behind Verizon.

Nevertheless, that $19 billion number is significant. “We made a huge bet on mobile broadband, to create what we think is the best [network],” said Stephenson.

By comparison, since Verizon Wireless was formed in 2000 as a joint venture of Verizon and Vodaphone, the company has invested about $60 billion (an average of about $5.7 billion per year), according to Gilbert.

So it looks as if AT&T may finally be stepping up to make a big investment in its network. However, with Verizon Wireless on the verge of rolling out 4G in the second half of 2010, AT&T remains in danger of falling even further behind.