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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 27, 2009 at 10:40 AM

AT&T upping 3G speeds, but you’ll need a new (iPhone)

Download speeds of up to 7.2 megabits per second (theoretically) will be available on AT&T’s 3G network after upgrades are completed this year, the company said today.

The catch is you’ll need a new phone or laptop card to get the fastest speeds. Users should also expect “typical real-world” speeds to be “less than the theoretical peak and will vary based on a number of factors, including location, device, and overall traffic on the local network at a given time.”

AT&T did throw a bone to people with the current hardware, including the 3G iPhone that’s soon to be somewhat obsolete: They will see better network performance from the upgrade, just not the fastest downloads.

“Most existing smartphones will not be able to take advantage of the upgrade, but existing smartphone users are still likely to see improved performance from our efforts to deploy 850 MHz spectrum, add backhaul capacity, and add new cell sites to the network,” spokeswoman Jane Taber said via email.

Just in time, Apple’s expected to introduce a new version of the 3G iPhone this summer.

Technically, AT&T is upgrading its network to high speed packet access (HSPA) 7.2 technology. It’s part of the $17 billion or so worth of capital expenditures the company plans to spend this year.

The 7.2 upgrade is also an interim step until AT&T begins rolling out an even faster 4G LTE network, starting with tests in 2010 and deployment in 2011. At that point it will be time for yet another smartphone. (Here’s a piece from last October where the upgrade and new hardware requirements were previewed).

AT&T said additional spectrum has been added in more than half of its 3G network areas over the past year, bandwidth to cell sites is being increased with fiber-optic links and about 2,100 new cell sites are being added nationwide.

As for devices, AT&T said 3G 7.2 compatible phones and laptop cards will be available “later this year.” Taber couldn’t say exactly when Seattle or any particular region will get the faster network speeds.

Faster is better, but the inability to upgrade expensive devices with software doesn’t do much for the allure of 3G. Maybe they should label the next generation of hardware 3.2G or something so people don’t get confused.

Comments | More in | Topics: 3G, Apple, apple

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