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4G LTE for Xoom to require shipment to Motorola

Motorola’s Xoom

Consumers who buy Motorola’s new Xoom tablet when it hits stores today will have to send their tablets back to Motorola if they want to upgrade to 4G LTE, according to Verizon Wireless.

Support information posted on Verizon’s site details the steps a Xoom owner must go through to make the leap from the current 3G connectivity to 4G when that option becomes available in the second quarter.

Here are the steps: after backing up files and personal data on the tablet to a PC, users are encouraged to either encrypt that information or perform a factory reset to bring the Xoom back to its initial state.

Shipping the Xoom back to Motorola for its 4G retrofit is free–users will receive a prepaid FedEx envelope and shipping material in which to place the tablet. After that, Xoom owners will be without their tablets for about six business days, according to Verizon.

Once the newly 4G-outfitted Xoom is returned to its owner, Verizon is promising speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2Mbps to 5Mbps on the uplink. The carrier said that no changes will be required to the data plan itself.

The 4G upgrade option will be available around 90 days after today’s launch of the Xoom, according to Verizon. Interested Xoom owners can enter their e-mail addresses at Verizon’s Xoom 4G upgrade page to receive a notice when the option becomes available.

In an e-mail to CNET, Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney confirmed that the Xoom will require a hardware change to set up the 4G connectivity. She added that other options besides mailing the tablet to Motorola are being discussed and will be announced closer to when the update becomes available.

Debuting today, the Xoom is being sold through Verizon for $599.99 with a two-year contract or for $799.99 without a contract. The 3G data plan will cost $20 a month for 1GB of data. Customers who want to stick with just Wi-Fi will still need to buy into the data plan for one month in order to activate the wireless option.

The first tablet to sport Google’s new Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS, the Xoom offers a 10.1-inch high-definition display, a 1GHz dual-core processor, a 2-megapixel video camera in front, and a 5-megapixel camera in back. A variety of tablets have already been hitting the market, but the Xoom faces a relatively small list of rivals with comparable features, at least for now.

Looking ahead, Samsung will release a new model of its Galaxy Tab tablet with a 10.1-inch screen and Honeycomb operating system. Research In Motion is prepping a string of BlackBerry PlayBook tablets for launch this year. And of course, market leader Apple is hardly standing still. With its still dominant iPad posing the ultimate challenge for any competing tablet, Apple will reportedly announce its iPad 2 at an event set for Wednesday.

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