updated 04:45 pm EDT, Fri May 14, 2010
ATT plans surprise HSPA plus upgrade for this year
AT&T's John Stankey at a New York City event today surprised the industry by revealing that the carrier's upgrade to HSPA+ will be much larger than expected. It plans to have 14.4Mbps access rolled out far enough on its network to reach 250 million subscribers by the end of 2010. The speed-up should roughly double the 7.2Mbps speeds on offer today and will usually involve just software upgrades for cell sites.
The executive wouldn't say exactly when the HSPA+ would start deployment other than sometime later in the year. Faster 3G speeds wouldn't affect the company's upgrade to 4G using the LTE standard, which should still see its commercial rollout in 2011.
Adding HSPA+ marks a seeming reversal from earlier statements, where AT&T had said it might skip HSPA+ altogether in favor of LTE. Stankey, however, said AT&T had a chance to provide better performance on 3G due to its use of HSPA and was "taking that opportunity" to improve its speeds ahead of time.
The network's implementation won't be the fastest in the world, as all three Canadian carriers as well as some around the world are using the 21Mbps version. It should nonetheless see reduced lag and the other benefits associated with the newer technology.
In practice, HSPA+ has usually been reserved for data-only use, such as USB modems and mobile routers. This year may change circumstances as companies like Infineon and Qualcomm may have HSPA+ phone chipsets that could provide the faster speeds to handsets for the first time. No indications have surfaced that the new iPhone will support HSPA+, but Apple has regularly been a driver of upgrades on the network, pushing first an expanded EDGE network in 2007 followed by regular HSPA in 2008 and 2009.