AT&T is again upgrading its 3G high-speed packet access (HSPA) network by deploying HSPA 7.2 technology in six U.S. cities this year.
Although AT&T first announced its plans to deploy HSPA 7.2 back in May, it wasn't until today that the company outlined a plan for where and when the technology would be deployed. The carrier now plans to have HSPA 7.2 up and running in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Miami and Charlotte by year-end and to have HSPA 7.2 cover 90% of its 3G network footprint by the end of 2011, after which AT&T will start its transition to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile data technology.
The 7.2 upgrade is just the latest effort by AT&T to improve the speed and capacity of its 3G network. Last June, AT&T said that it had upgraded its 3G network to reach peak speeds of 1.7Mbps. This past April, the company said that it was doubling its 3G capacity to reach peak speeds of 3.6Mbps. HSPA 7.2 has a peak speed of 7.2Mbps, although AT&T cautions that most users are unlikely to see data rates approaching theoretical peak speeds.
AT&T's advertised peak data speeds have proven controversial in recent years as both the carrier and Apple have been sued for allegedly delivering data to the iPhone at speeds that have fallen short of those promised in marketing campaigns. Additionally, a recent study by Gartner Research showed that all four major U.S. carriers' 3G networks failed to deliver on customers' expectations for data rates. Gartner said it received the most complaints from users about AT&T's network and that actual mobile network averages are "generally between 300Kbps and 700Kbps lower" than expected for both uplink and downlink speeds.
AT&T first began deploying its 3G network and services in 2004 when it rolled out a 220K to 320Kbps Wideband Code Division Multiple Access service to four U.S. markets. Between 2005 and 2008, the company has invested nearly $20 billion in network upgrades that have helped transition its wireless network to 3G services.