John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

With HSPA+ Network Upgrade, AT&T Buys Time for LTE

Convinced that long-term-evolution, or LTE, wireless broadband’s path to maturity might be quite a bit longer than some of its rivals claim, AT&T is significantly expanding its HSPA+ network upgrade. The carrier is throwing about $10 million at the effort, which it says will double real-world download speeds from 7Mbps to up to 14Mbps–theoretically, anyway.

“This move to HSPA+ is primarily a software upgrade for equipment across our network, very similar to the upgrade we made earlier this year to HSPA 7.2,” said AT&T CTO John Donovan.

“Also like HSPA 7.2,” Donovan added, “the full speed benefits of HSPA+ will be seen when the software upgrade is combined with enhanced Ethernet-powered fiber-optic backhaul connections, which carry traffic from the cell site to the network backbone. We’re deploying these backhaul connections to cell sites across the nation, a process that will continue through 2011, when we plan to begin deployment of LTE.”

So there has been no change to carrier’s LTE rollout plans. For AT&T (T), this HSPA+ upgrade is intended as a bridge to LTE, which in all likelihood will be an overlay network to 3G for the next few years.

As AT&T Operations CEO John Stankey told GigaOm yesterday, “[LTE] vendors are experiencing some challenges on certain features and software, and first implementations in 2011 will be…pretty vanilla.”

And according to a recent study by research house Maravedis, LTE won’t really hit maturity for another four to five years. Until that day arrives, mobile users will necessarily be falling back on 3G.

A wise move, then, for AT&T to enhance its entire 3G footprint, and at such little cost, particularly at a time when more and more data-hungry devices like Apple’s (AAPL) iPad are arriving at market.

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