T-Mobile Leaves AT&T in Its HSPA+ Dust

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is sticking with its plan to migrate straight from 14.4-Mbit/s High-Speed Packet Access-Plus (HSPA+) to Long Term Evolution (LTE) even as rival T-Mobile US Inc. prepares to surpass it on 3G download speeds.

T-Mobile USA announced Tuesday it will increase the maximum possible data speeds offered on its upgraded 3G network to 42 Mbit/s in 2011, up from the 21 Mbit/s possible today. It also promised to double its population coverage to 200 million by the end of the year. (See T-Mobile USA Promises 42-Mbit/s 3G in 2011 .)

While the fourth-largest carrier in the US continues to claim superiority over its rivals' network speeds, AT&T has kept relatively quiet on its HSPA+ progress and plans. A spokeswoman for the company only restated that it is deploying HSPA+ at 14.4 Mbit/s this year.

T-Mobile was the first US operator to launch HSPA+ (in Philadelphia in September 2009), and it now covers more than 55 markets. AT&T launched its HSPA+ service in May this year, a full eight months after T-Mobile, but promised population coverage of 250 million by the year's end with maximum theoretical speeds of 14.4 Mbit/s. (See AT&T Plots Widescale HSPA+ Rollout , T-Mobile Hangs Growth Hopes on HSPA+ in US, T-Mobile Steps Up HSPA+ in Philly, MWC 2010: T-Mob's 3G Speed Race, and MWC 2010: T-Mobile Boosts Backhaul.)

The first HSPA+ devices to join T-Mobile's webConnect Rocket USB stick on either network will be more dongles, but T-Mobile says it will offer a 14.4-Mbit/s-capable smartphone this month. (See T-Mobile HSPA+ Smartphone Due in September and HSPA+ in the US & the Wait for Handsets.)

Still, it's possible AT&T may not be getting aggressive with HSPA+ -- its interim step to LTE -- because it doesn't have to. Heavy Reading senior consultant Berge Ayvazian says AT&T will likely rely on demand for the iPhone 4 (even though it's not an HSPA+ device) and other popular smartphones to compete against T-Mobile's growing HSPA+ network, as well as against the WiMax and forthcoming LTE networks from Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless , respectively.

"In the near term AT&T can win since they have lowered the threshold rates for mobile data services while there are few HSPA+, LTE or WiMax-enabled smartphones, and consumers have been willing to tolerate AT&T’s poor mobile broadband network performance," Ayvazian writes in an email to Light Reading Mobile. "AT&T is betting that they will not lose market share if they delay their mobile broadband network enhancements into 2011, and so far they have been correct."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

digits 12/5/2012 | 4:25:01 PM
re: T-Mobile Leaves AT&T in Its HSPA+ Dust

If I was weighing up whether to use AT&T or T-Mobile as a user, I'd be as interested (actually, more interested) in their customer service and coverage. IN New York recently the 3G (WCDMA) coverage was awful, which is amazing. I'm not sure AT&T is losing out much by not ramping its HSPA+, but it (and T-Mob) could sure do with investing in extended coverage in dense usage areas.    

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:24:59 PM
re: T-Mobile Leaves AT&T in Its HSPA+ Dust

I agree that coverage is much more important than speed right now. It's a good marketing message for T-Mobile to claim 4G-like speeds, but most probably just want reliability...and smartphones too.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:24:55 PM
re: T-Mobile Leaves AT&T in Its HSPA+ Dust

Where would they be if they didn't do the speed upgrade? Manhattan is a godawful topology to build out a mobile network in and users often *appear* to be accepting of crappy coverage as long as they get the latest, fastest toys to play with. What's a carrier to think? ;-)

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