T-Mobile USA isn’t act like a lame duck. The company on Tuesday is announcing that it has doubled the speed of its HSPA+ network, boosting peak theoretical data transfer speeds from 21 megabits per second to 42 Mbps.
The upgrade was largely done with software, but it also leans on the fiber optic lines that T-Mobile has been installing to improve backhaul to its cell sites. T-Mobile is basically multiplexing together 21 Mbps carriers with “dual cell” technology.
New hardware is required to get the maximum speeds, but T-Mobile said other users should see speeds increase, because the upgrade is improving the overall network.
The only way to get the fastest speed possible on the network now is to use a new “Rocket 3.0” USB modem [pictured], which T-Mobile will begin selling Wednesday for $100, after a $50 rebate.
A new phone capable of 42 Mbps will be released “before the end of the year,” said Eric Schlumpf, T-Mobile’s vice president and general manager for the Pacific Northwest.
“We think that this reflects our continued investment and continued emphasis on speed and affordability in the market,” he said.
Its current phones capable of 21 Mbps include the Galaxy S 4G, MyTouch 4G, G2, Sidekick and G2X. The upcoming Sensation and BlackBerry Bold 9900 are also 21 Mbps capable.
T-Mobile began HSPA+ service in late 2009 in Philadelphia and rolled it out in stages starting in March 2010.
With the 42 Mbps upgrade, it’s launching 52 markets at once, including Seattle, Spokane, Olympia, Bellingham and Portland. In the Seattle area, T-Mobile claims more than 80 percent of the service area has 42 Mbps coverage.
In its announcement, the company said it spent about $50 milloin on network upgrades and improvements in the Seattle area through 2010 and more than $4 million so far this year.
Schlumpf said T-Mobile’s plan is to remain competitive with Verizon’s LTE network, which doesn’t yet have the reach or variety of phones of Tmo’s HSPA+ network.
“Our expectation and our pace is to match Verizon’s LTE speed as we roll out our HSPA+ network,” he said.
T-Mobile USA is being acquired by AT&T in a deal that’s supposed to close in 2012. So why upgrade now?
“The network’s not going away; we’re going to continue to work together,” Schlumpf said.
He added that with the typical lifecycle of cellphones, “the typical consumer will see no change whatsoever.”
UPDATE: A spokesman for T-Mobile wanted to be clear that T-Mobile’s an “independent competitor” to AT&T until the merger closes.