AT&T’s chief technology officer said in a blog post today that the company would upgrade its entire 3G network to HSPA+.
John Donovan said the upgrade was primarily a software update and would be “very similar” to the upgrade AT&T made earlier this year to HSPA 7.2.
“Also like HSPA 7.2, the full speed benefits of HSPA+ will be seen when the software upgrade is combined with enhanced Ethernet-powered fiber-optic backhaul connections, which carry traffic from the cell site to the network backbone,” he said. “We’re deploying these backhaul connections to cell sites across the nation, a process that will continue through 2011, when we plan to begin deployment of LTE.”
The HSPA+ upgrade is expected to cover 250 million people at a “small incremental cost,” according to a company spokeswoman. Donovan did not provide additional details on AT&T’s HSPA+ strategy or compatible devices, but the spokeswoman said AT&T anticipated that “initial HSPA+ devices will be laptop cards and integrated chips.”
The HSPA+ upgrade marks a shift in strategy for AT&T. At the 4G World conference last September, AT&T network architecture and planning chief Kris Rinne said the operator had taken HSPA+ off the table in order to focus on the company’s pending LTE deployment.
AT&T had earlier announced plans to move to HSPA 7.2 but had made no mention of an HSPA+ upgrade.
The AT&T spokeswoman said the company has been “continually testing HSPA+ and have continually said that it remained an option for us.”
Yankee Group analyst Andy Castonguay says AT&T’s move toward HSPA+ “makes significantly more sense than jumping into LTE.”
“This gives AT&T a very competitive offering given where HSPA+ network speeds are and from a device perspective… I was surprised when they said they weren’t going to deploy it before,” he says. “Both Verizon and Sprint are going to face significant challenges in terms of device selection from LTE and WiMAX, respectively.”
AT&T announced in January it had completed the software upgrades for HSPA 7.2 and will continue to deploy fiber-based backhaul into 2011, when its LTE deployment begins.
Filed Under: Infrastructure