AT&T: HSPA+ a cheap upgrade that buys time for 4G

Posted on May 18, 2010

AT&T’s HSPA+ upgrade is coming as it’s both easy to build and a likely necessary stopgap, the carrier’s Operations president John Stankey said in an interview today. Since it’s largely software, the upgrade will cost just $10 million to reach all 250 million potential subscribers. It also keeps AT&T in the running for speed, as Stankey told GigaOM he doesn’t expect 4G phones to reach the mainstream until 2014.

“The vendors are experiencing some challenges on certain features and software,” he explained, “and first implementations in 2011 will be… pretty vanilla.”

Among them are the questions of smoothly roaming between 3G and 4G areas as well as voice on 4G, which is nearing a final standard but isn’t yet ready for phones. On Long Term Evolution (LTE), the standard AT&T and most other carriers will use for 4G, voice will usually be pure VoIP data rather than traditional cellular networking.

Phones may also be impractical as the newness of LTE chipsets will probably mark a repeat of the bulky and battery-hungry designs that characterized 3G early on. The AT&T executive doesn’t expect slim, efficient 4G phones until the 2014 mainstream date. HSPA+ devices coming this year also aren’t likely to involve phones for similar reasons and should center on modems.

Upgrading early is regardless important for AT&T as it will not only blunt some of the effect of Verizon’s accelerated 4G rollout but create a more graceful drop-off in speed. Where LTE peaks at a theoretical 100Mbps and has been getting 12Mbps in practice, existing 7.2Mbps HSPA 3G gets about 2Mbps or less. HSPA+ could offset some of the difference and guarantee that more Internet services have the necessary speed.

Despite speculation, Apple isn’t believed to have an HSPA+ iPhone this year and may depend on having a sufficiently low-power Infineon chipset before it can make an attempt.

By Electronista Staff

Posted in: GETGIT