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

March 23, 2010 at 3:05 PM

T-Mobile CTO: Superfast 3G coming to Seattle by year-end

T-Mobile USA is apparently taking the Clearwire approach to rolling out its fast mobile broadband network, offering most everywhere in the country before launching in its hometown.

Is it the challenging topography that’s keeping Seattle from getting T-Mobile’s HSPA plus service until later in the year?

Philadelphia has had it since last fall, and today the company said “plus” is now in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island and suburban Washington, D.C., and “coming very soon” to Los Angeles.

It turns out the timing has to do with connecting T-Mobile’s cell sites to the Internet with fiber optic cable so they can handle the faster speeds. It’s taking a little longer to get fiber backhaul to the Seattle-area sites.

“We’ve already got the software essentially in the network,” Cole Brodman, T-Mobile’s chief technology and innovation officer, said by phone from the CTIA show in Las Vegas.

“It’s not so much the software capabilty but to truly unlock the performance you’ve got to have the backbone. That’s where we have some regional differences.”

HSPA plus will be a nice bonus for current T-Mobile subscribers with 3G devices. The early run in Philadelphia is seeing average speeds between 5 and 8 megabits per second with peaks over 10 Mbps. The system can support peaks up to 21 Mbps, and it’s backward compatible with current 3G devices.

Customers may not need that kind of speed on their current phone, but new models with bigger screens, better cameras and video services are on the way. For instance, next week T-Mobile releases the HTC HD2, which has a 4.3-inch screen and comes loaded with Blockbuster video service.

T-Mobile has found that the average user with a 3G Android device is consuming 20 times the data capacity of 2G smartphone users, Brodman said.

The HSPA plus speed will be especially noticeable for people using the network to connect netbooks and laptops, which won’t see buffering of online video, Brodman said. (T-Mobile also announced today that it’s selling its first netbook, the Dell Mini 10, with mobile broadband service.)

Will all these devices bog down T-Mobile’s network, the way AT&T’s network was slammed by the iPhone?

Brodman said they won’t, because the company bought plenty of spectrum and it’s using only one channel for its 3G network. “That channel is nowhere near being fully utilized,” he said.

Usage also becomes more efficient as speeds increase, he said, explaining that it takes people less time to download files. As people move to 3G smartphones, they also free up spectrum used by the older network.

Still, Brodman couldn’t be more specific about the Seattle rollout. The city “is one of our top metropolitan markets we’ll be rolling out in 2010. It will be there this year,” he said.

Comments | Topics: broadband, Broadband, HD2

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