Forget what the International Telecommunications Union said about 4G several weeks ago (hint, not even LTE and WiMax qualify), T-Mobile believes its expanding HSPA+ network is good enough for the 4G descriptor.
HSPA+ has long been considered a 3.5G technology, one of the last stepping stones in the HSDPA/HSUPA family of tech before reaching Long Term Evolution. To call it 4G, at least as far as the ITU is concerned, is total bunk. T-Mobile sees things differently.
"4G is about performance and today T-Mobile's HSPA+ network is delivering 4G speeds that match and often beat WiMAX and are readily comparable to what early LTE will deliver. Our 4G network is capable of theoretical speeds up to 21Mbps and we have seen average download speeds approaching 5Mbps on our myTouch 4G phone in some cities with peak speeds of nearly 12Mbps. Further, independent reviewers have seen average download speeds on our webConnect Rocket between 5 and 8Mbps with peak speeds up to 8-10Mbps," said Neville Ray, chief technology officer, T-Mobile USA.
Ray isn't making those numbers up. I've tested T-Mobile's network extensively against Verizon's 3G network and Sprint's WiMax network. T-Mobile's HSPA+ does deliver faster performance, no doubt. I have a myTouch 4G smartphone on hand and just this week it reached download speeds in excess of 5.3Mbps. That's fast. The quickest download on my Verizon Wireless MiFi: 1.8Mbps.
T-Mobile also believes that the architecture behind is HSPA+ network gives it an advantage, as it has added capacity to handle twice the network traffic that others can provide.
T-Mobile is pushing more than just raw speeds and feeds, however. As part of its announcement, T-Mobile added six new markets to its HSPA+ footprint. They are Chicago, Ill.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Louisville, Ky.; and Raleigh-Durham and Wilmington, N.C. With these six markets, T-Mobile now covers 75 markets with HSPA+. T-Mobile said it is on target to cover 100 markets -- and 200 million Americans -- with HSPA+ by the end of the year.
"The footprint of our 4G service is not something that competitors are going to match anytime soon, and starting today, we will begin marketing our network advantage with TV commercials advertising 'America's Largest 4G Network' from T-Mobile."
Verizon Wireless said it plans to cover 110 million Americans in 38 markets with LTE by the end of 2010. Verizon is advertising average download speeds of 5Mbps to 12Mbps. Verizon hasn't said how fast it will expand to more markets beyond the initial 38, but its LTE network roll out is scheduled to take place through 2013. Sprint has a total of 62 markets covered with WiMax right now. It says 120 million will be blanketed with WiMax by year's end.AT&T isn't planning to roll out LTE until the middle of 2011. It says it will have 75 million POPS covered by the end of 2011.
T-Mobile is already primed to increase the speeds of its not-even-complete HSPA+ footprint. Right now, it is capable of maximum theoretical downloads of 21Mbps. Starting in 2011, T-Mobile is going to double that speed to a theoretical max of 42Mbps. Even more incredible, T-Mobile said it is already considering HSPA+ upgrades to 84Mbps and 168Mbps.
"With an upgrade path that continues to provide room for considerable speed enhancements, T-Mobile's 4G network is purpose-built for continued growth. We are now on pace to increase our 4G footprint with plans to offer 42Mbps theoretical speeds in 2011,” added Ray. "As customer demand for wireless data increases, T-Mobile is well-positioned to compete based on the speed, breadth and evolution path of our mobile broadband service."
Whether or not you agree with the marketing message being pitched by T-Mobile (disclaimer, I do not), there's no denying that its network is fast.
Is it 4G, and if it isn't, will most consumers care? Probably not.
Don't expect AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless to take T-Mobile's decision laying down. T-Mobile has already unleashed commercials that lampoon AT&T. This holiday season is sure to be rife with sniping between all four major carriers, especially when it comes to 4G.