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AT&T wireless chief defends 3G network

AT&T exec touts 3G, talks of transition to 4G

By Brad Reed, Network World
December 09, 2009 01:14 PM ET

Network World - AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega today touted his 3G network's speeds and vowed that the company would continue to improve it until the carrier was ready to transition to 4G technology.

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AT&T's 3G network, which has been under assault from rival Verizon for major urban area coverage in the United States, was given a boost this week when an independent study from network performance monitoring start-up Root Wireless showed that in areas where AT&T has 3G wireless coverage it is faster than any of the other major U.S. carriers. De la Vega touted the study during his presentation at UBS Global Media and Communications Conference today and pledged that the company was working hard to make the network faster in the near future.

In particular, De la Vega said AT&T's transition to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology will give a significant boost to its 3G data services that will hold customers over until the company switches over to the 4G Long Term Evolution standard sometime in the next couple of years. AT&T said earlier this year that it 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 by the end of 2011. De la Vega also said that the network would get a boost when AT&T had finished converting its licensed spectrum on the 850MHz band for 3G use.

"With HSPA 7.2, the nation's fastest 3G network gets even faster," he said. "We will have the technology up and running in six markets by end of this month and soon all customers will be able to experience the benefits of HSPA 7.2."

While the main thrust of his presentation was praising AT&T's 3G network, De la Vega acknowledged that the company needs to make critical improvements in both the New York and San Francisco markets in order to keep up with data demand. In both cases, he said the transition to the 850MHz would provide better propagation for 3G services and would provide users in New York and San Francisco with a much better data experience than what they're seeing right now.

Customer complaints about AT&T's voice and data services have caused the company major headaches in recent months, as the most recent Consumer Reports survey showed the carrier has the lowest level of customer satisfaction in the United States. AT&T got its lowest marks in the survey for its voice services, as it was the only wireless carrier in the United States to receive below-average marks for its voice quality. AT&T also received subpar remarks across the board for its customer service while receiving average marks for its text-messaging and data services.

In addition to commenting on AT&T’s 3G network, De la Vega also commented on the company's plans to start migrating to 4G in 2011. De la Vega said that he wasn't concerned that Verizon's plans to start rolling out LTE next year would put AT&T behind the curve for 4G deployment because there simply aren't enough LTE-ready laptops or phones that are ready to hit the market. De la Vega said he felt there would be a much larger ecosystem of devices in 2011 and that AT&T would not be missing out by making the shift a year later than Verizon.

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