updated 02:10 pm EDT, Mon April 20, 2009
ATT on 3G Upgrade Plan
AT&T VP of technology realization Scott McElroy today reaffirmed plans for the carrier to double the theoretical peak speeds for its 3G service to 7.2Mbps this year. The update is still in a two-city trial but, the executive tells Telephony Online, and should roll out through a software upgrade to many of AT&T's existing 3G areas within the next few months. Expansion will also come with both more 850MHz 3G coverage as well as an infrastructure upgrade (mentioned to Electronista earlier this month) to bolster capacity in key areas.
McElroy also notes that AT&T is now likely to shelve plans to upgrade to 14.4Mbps standard HSPA and will instead move directly to its 20Mbps HSPA+ network. Official specifications for standard HSPA would allow up to 14.4Mbps but have proven difficult to implement in practice; the company is close enough to implementing HSPA+ that it makes more technical sense to jump directly to that standard. Moving to the faster technology will let AT&T "dramatically" boost capacity without too many hardware upgrades and should additionally bring an all-Internet Protocol infrastructure behind the scenes, making it easier and less expensive to roll out than existing 3G.
The mention of a capacity upgrade indirectly supports recent investigations which suggest AT&T is near launching a major network upgrade that would give faster speeds and better capacity just in time for the release of the third-generation iPhone. Observers expect the handset itself to support 7.2Mbps 3G through a new chipset and that it may have new services that justify the upgrade.