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Ahead of LTE, AT&T tests 7.2 Mbps speeds in Chicago: Wireless provider sets sights on HSPA+

AT&T Mobility is in no hurry to transition to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. In response to accelerated next-generation rollout schedules by Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility spokesman Mark Siegel said the carrier has plenty of room for upgrades before making the switch to LTE.
“We have some real advantages with our (GSM-based) technology path,” Siegel said. “We still have plenty of room left to increase speeds” before moving to LTE.
Siegel said the carrier plans to first upgrade its current HSPA network to HSPA+, before moving to LTE. (Siegel would not offer a specific date for an LTE rollout by AT&T Mobility, noting only that it will begin some type of rollout within the new two years.) Further, Siegel declined to give any details related to the HSPA+ upgrade, including when it would happen and any possible benefits the upgrade would provide.
Interestingly, though, Siegel did say AT&T Mobility is testing 7.2 megabit per second download speeds in Chicago, adding that those speeds could soon increase to 14.4 Mbps or higher. Siegel declined to explain the technologies powering those speeds.
According to the GSM Association, the trade group representing the GSM family of technologies, HSDPA can support download speeds of 7.2 Mbps, while HSPA+ can support speeds of up to 42 Mbps in the downlink and 11 Mbps in the uplink. The trade group said peak rates for LTE, which is not a finalized standard, sit at 100 Mbps in the downlink and 50 Mbps in the uplink.
Typically, such speeds are recorded only in testing, and vary wildly in commercial use.
Nonetheless, Siegel took aim at AT&T Mobility rivals seemingly desperate to score the network-upgrade high ground. He said Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless are upgrading quickly because they have no room left to increase speeds on their 3G networks. Both carriers currently rely on CDMA-based networks updated to the EV-DO Revision A standard.
According to the CDMA Development Group, the Rev. A standard provides a peak data rate of 3.1 Mbps on the downlink and 1.8 Mbps on the uplink using a 1.25 megahertz channel. Neither carrier has announced any plans for further updates to their respective networks to the Rev. B standard that according to the CDG allows the aggregation of network channels that in a 20 megahertz channel could provide downlink speeds of 46.5 Mbps and uplink speeds of 27 Mbps.
“Just because they’re moving fast doesn’t mean they’re in the lead,” Siegel said.
Sprint’s position
Naturally, Sprint Nextel disagrees. The carrier has time and again touted its time-to-market advantage with mobile WiMAX, and this week released its first CDMA/WiMAX dual-mode modem, sold under the “Sprint 4G” moniker. The device is available in Baltimore, and Sprint Nextel’s WiMAX partner Clearwire Corp. is set to launch its mobile WiMAX offering in Portland, Ore., next month.
Stephanie Vinge, spokeswoman for Sprint Nextel, said the carrier made the choice to upgrade because data demand is growing beyond the capacity of 3G.
“4G technology existed already in the form of WiMAX and presented a significant advantage for Sprint,” Vinge said. “And an ecosystem (of other companies including Intel Corp., Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.) was already growing around WiMAX.”
Sprint Nextel says its mobile WiMAX play supports speeds of 2 to 4 Mbps.
As for Verizon Wireless, the carrier is pushing ahead on the next-gen front. Last year Verizon Wireless promised to offer LTE service by 2010, but Dick Lynch, Verizon Wireless CTO, recently announced the carrier would have LTE up and running in certain markets by end of 2009.
“We expect that LTE will actually be in service somewhere here in the U.S. probably this time next year,” said Lynch, according to PC World.
Verizon Wireless did not return calls for comment.

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