With iPad on the way, AT&T touts network investments

AT&T hopes HSPA 7.2, $2 billion wireless investment will hold users over this year

Now that AT&T has taken its lumps from both competitors and users over the size of its 3G network, the company is determined not to be caught flat footed again.

Now that AT&T has taken its lumps from competitors and users over the size of its 3G network, the company is determined not to be caught flat footed again.

Just one day after Apple announced that its new iPad tablet would be available on both AT&T and Verizon, AT&T began touting investments in its 3G HSPA network that the company believes will give it the ability to handle increased traffic from mobile devices. During a conference call Thursday, AT&T COO John Stankey said that the company was investing $2 billion more than it had invested last year in improving its wireless network in 2010 and that it would construct roughly 2,000 new cell sites to expand its coverage.

Apple tablet carrier smackdown: Verizon vs. AT&TAT&T says that a big part of its wireless network upgrade will come through its transition to HSPA 7.2 technology that the company expects will cover 90% of its 3G network by the end of 2011. HSPA 7.2 is a variation of the GSM-based HSPA technology that has a peak speed of 7.2Mbps, although AT&T cautions that most users are unlikely to see data rates approaching theoretical peak speeds.In addition to switching its 3G network to HSPA 7.2, AT&T is also hoping to boost network capacity by utilizing more spectrum on the 850MHz band. The company is hoping that deploying its 3G network over the 850MHz spectrum will solve some of the big capacity and propagation problems it has encountered in major markets such as New York and San Francisco.

All of these upgrades to the 3G network are intended to hold mobile users over until AT&T makes the switch to a 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in 2012. Verizon is expected to be the first carrier to offer LTE services this year, although its offerings will likely be data-only since standards for LTE voice and SMS have yet to be finalized.

AT&T's 3G network came under fire from rival Verizon last year as Verizon's now-famous "There's a Map for That" ads typically showed AT&T users struggling to use applications on their mobile devices while Verizon customers happily watch live streaming videos. The ads then would display maps that show the total geographical reach of 3G coverage for each carrier, with Verizon's map showing a far larger area of the country covered by its 3G service.

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