Sprint Nextel Corp., the third-largest U.S. mobile-phone carrier, began touting last year that it had the country’s first nationwide, fourth-generation wireless network. Now it’s fighting to retain its marketing edge.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., the largest and second- largest mobile phone carriers, both detailed their plans for fourth-generation, or 4G, offerings this week. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Verizon unveiled 10 devices for its high-speed service, while AT&T introduced 20 products.

The carriers all mean slightly different things when they use the term. Still, Sprint is no longer the only carrier trumpeting its 4G technology, a moniker meant to suggest speed and innovation.

“Sprint is at a crossroads,” said Craig Moffett, a New York-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “Their time-to- market advantage is now largely gone for 4G.”

To compete, Sprint plans to emphasize its low-cost plans for unlimited wireless data use, a pitch that will grow more compelling as more people use mobile phones and tablets to surf the Web and watch video, said Teresa Kellett, director of 4G at Sprint. The company offers unlimited data service for $69.99 a month, while AT&T eliminated its unlimited plan and Verizon charges more.

“Our ability to offer unlimited 4G we think is the best way to get people to use it,” said Kellett in an interview. “We want to get people in that mode of experiencing the Internet like they would at home or at the office.”

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