The battle between AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless is heating up.

Now that AT&T has been shot down in its attempts to get Verizon Wireless to take down its "there's a map for that ads" promoting greater 3G coverage, it's rolling out its own attack ads.

In the first spot, AT&T enlists Luke Wilson to give the carrier the nod over Verizon Wireless in the first of four categories:

  • Nation's fastest 3G network.
  • Talk and surf at the same time.
  • Most popular smartphones.
  • Access to more than 100,000 apps.

Verizon nabs the final category: Name that starts with the letter V.

It's a hokey ad, and it certainly isn't as damaging as the zinger that Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture between Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and Vodafone (NYSE:VOD) -- put out a couple of weeks ago.

AT&T's campaign may also backfire if Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) opens up its iPhone availability to Verizon Wireless next year, as many expect. Half of those AT&T category kills are based on the carrier's exclusivity with Apple's iPhone.

However, it's important for AT&T to attack. The Verizon coverage map may be deceptive, given the country's population density, but it's sure to resonate with users. AT&T's refusal to back iPhone tethering and its overloaded networks are weighing heavy on its reputation. It has a lock on the iPhone -- as Verizon Wireless is down to pitching "buy one get one free" Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry deals -- but the ill will is bubbling.

AT&T is right to attack, but sometimes the best offense is a good defense.