It’s becoming a tradition. Every year, just as the world builds up frenzied hype about Apple’s new impending iPhone launch, AT&T announces that it is upgrading its wireless network. When we saw the first Apple iPhone go live in 2007, AT&T announced that it would be upgrading its entire EDGE network (remember, the original iPhone was EDGE-only) with greater capacity and coverage. The launch of the iPhone 3G (the second-generation iPhone) was preceded by AT&T’s announcement of 3G network upgrades, finally bringing HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA) to the US. And, now that the third-iteration of the iconic iPhone is nigh upon us, AT&T has announced yet another round of 3G network upgrades. This time, AT&T is rolling out 7.2Mps HSDPA upgrades for its entire 3G HSPA network in the US!
The upgrade to the faster HSDPA spec will allow AT&T to serve up 3G data speeds at a theoretical max of 7.2Mbps on the downlink (High Speed Downlink Packet Access – HSDPA), double the the current theoretical max of 3.6Mbps. More importantly, the move will allow the new iPhone, which will support the faster 7.2Mbps HSDPA spec, to really stretch its legs on AT&T’s high-speed wireless network.
Scott McElroy, AT&T Mobility vice president of technology realization, says that the software-based upgrades to AT&T’s 3G network are already up and running on two of the carrier’s US test networks, and that the software upgrades will soon hit the rest of the 3G network. The upgrade to 7.2Mbps HSDPA should increase capacity as well as wireless data speeds, but AT&T is also working to boost capacity through hardware expansion – adding HSPA carriers at some cellsites and upgrading backhaul networks to handle the increased load. McElroy says that AT&T is “adding second and even third carriers according to demand,” on a “market-by-market basis.”
AT&T also reiterated its intent to go live with their Evolved HSPA (aka HSPA+) data network later this year. HSPA+ offers peak downlink data speeds of more than 21Mbps, which should bridge the gap to 4G LTE in the coming years. Take note, AT&T is skipping out on any 14.4Mbps HSDPA upgrades (the theoretical maximum throughput for the HSDPA spec) in favor of leap-frogging directly to the faster HSPA+ standard.
The new iPhone will no doubt have plenty of space to play on AT&T’s emerging 7.2Mbps HSDPA network, giving it the green-light to interact with data-intensive wireless services, like streaming video and possibly even video calls.