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5/27/2009
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Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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AT&T Says 7.2Mbps HSPA Network On Track For 2009 Roll-Out

Today AT&T announced that it will begin upgrading its HSDPA/HSUPA-based 3G network to HSPA. If those acronyms don't mean anything to you, don't worry. The bottom line is this: theoretical maximum mobile download speeds will increase from 3.6Mbps to 7.2Mbps.

Today AT&T announced that it will begin upgrading its HSDPA/HSUPA-based 3G network to HSPA. If those acronyms don't mean anything to you, don't worry. The bottom line is this: theoretical maximum mobile download speeds will increase from 3.6Mbps to 7.2Mbps.When it comes to acronym alphabet soup, almost nothing compares to wireless technology. Today, AT&T's 3G network uses High-Speed Download Packet Access and High-Speed Upload Packet Access technology that is capable of reaching 3.6Mbps downloads on properly equipped devices. (Real-world speeds are close to 1.8Mbps.) Starting later this year, AT&T will take its 3G network to the next level by upgrading to High-Speed Packet Access technology, which will effectively double download speeds to 7.2Mbps.

This is good news.

Aside from the speed increase, however, AT&T has pledged a number of other improvements to its 3G network. They include:

  • Near-Doubling Radio Frequency Capacity. In 2008 and 2009 to date, high-quality 850 MHz spectrum has been deployed in more than half of AT&T's 3G network footprint to improve overall coverage and in-building reception, with additional markets planned for later in the year.
  • More Bandwidth to Cell Sites. We are adding fiber-optic connectivity and additional capacity to thousands of cell sites across the country this year, expanding the critical connections that deliver traffic from a cell site into the global IP backbone network. These upgrades will support the higher mobile broadband speeds enabled by both HSPA 7.2 and LTE.
  • More Cell Sites. Deployment of about 2,100 new cell sites across the country.
  • Wi-Fi Integration. Many AT&T smartphones will be able to switch seamlessly between 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. AT&T customers with qualifying smartphone and 3G LaptopConnect plans have access to the nation's largest Wi-Fi network -- more than 20,000 hotspots, including locations in all 50 states -- at no additional charge. AT&T's global Wi-Fi footprint covers more than 90,000 hotspots, and AT&T also can create permanent or temporary extended Wi-Fi zones in areas with high 3G network use, like a grouping of hotels or a festival.
  • MicroCells. Customer trials leading toward general availability of AT&T 3G MicroCell offerings, which utilize femtocells to enhance in-building wireless coverage.
All of these improvements will add up to a much-better performing network. The fiber back-haul improvements and increase in 850MHz coverage alone should vastly improve most users' experience with the network.

As far as devices are concerned, AT&T says that it will introduce laptop cards and smartphones that are capable of hitting 7.2Mbps later this year.

Last up, AT&T also said that it will begin trialing Long Term Evolution in 2010, and it expects to begin rolling out LTE in 2011, pretty much as soon as the HSPA upgrades are complete.

What's missing are plans to upgrade to HSPA+, which is a step in between HSPA and LTE. HSPA+ will increase speeds even more. I spoke with AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega several months ago, and he said at the time that AT&T will likely skip upgrading its network to 14.4Mbps and jump right from 7.2Mbps to 21Mbps. Today's announcement didn't provide any more information on when that might be.

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