Over the course of the last holiday season, Verizon aired a series of ads belittling AT&T’s coverage and even mocking the iPhone’s slogan (changing “There’s an app for that” to “There’s a map for that”). AT&T sued Verizon, lost the suit, and eventually settled down after Verizon stopped airing the ads incessantly.
Now AT&T has a new target in its quest against what it feels is disingenuous and deceptive advertising — T-Mobile’s HSPA+ publicity campaign.
HSPA+ is an advanced wireless technology designed to deliver faster download speeds over traditional 3G. It’s not quite a 4G technology — WiMAX, UMB, and LTE are the “true” 4G options — but it’s more advanced than traditional 3G. It does however work on existing 3G networks, and only requires a relatively simple firmware update to towers, in many cases.
So what’s AT&T’s problem? T-Mobile, the nation’s fourth largest carrier has been busy spreading HSPA+ coverage across the Northeastern United States. Now it claims that it is delivering “4G” speeds. Neville Ray, senior vice president of Engineering and Operations for T-Mobile writes in a release, “Our competitors are asking consumers to pay more for faster wireless service with limited coverage and very few capable devices. In contrast, T-Mobile is already delivering 4G speeds today to customers and we continue to make major leaps in expanding our HSPA+ mobile broadband footprint.”
AT&T believes T-Mobile’s statements are misinformation intended to fool news writers and consumers. AT&T Mobility spokesperson Seth Bloom comments, “I think that companies need to be careful that they’re not misleading customers by labeling HSPA+ as a 4G technology. We aren’t labeling those technologies as 4G.”
The wireless standard community seems to side with AT&T on this issue. They typically refer to LTE as 4G successor to GSM (3G) while referring to HSPA+ with stop-gap terms like 3.5G or “advanced 3G.” AT&T is working on coming up with a plan to deploy LTE, but is first focusing on beefing up its 3G network. Once those infrastructure improvements are complete it too will complete a quick HSPA+ update to improve the experience while customers await true 4G.
However, it won’t be calling HSPA+ “4G” — it will be calling it HSPA+.
T-Mobile’s HSPA+ service is currently available in New York City metropolitan area, including New Jersey and Long Island, as well as Upstate New York (Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse); Connecticut (Hartford, New Haven, Milford and Stamford); Providence, R.I.; Memphis, Tenn.; Las Vegas; Philadelphia and the Washington, D.C. suburbs. It has no publicly discussed plans to deploy WiMAX or LTE, as of yet.
HSPA+ isn’t just a firmware update in some cases, though. Sometimes it requires more fiber to be laid to the tower to support the higher transmission rates. T-Mobile is working on this to add more HSPA+ — a spokesperson says, “Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to put the necessary backhaul in place in these locations to complete the upgrade. T-Mobile expects to have fiber backhaul in place in more than 100 metropolitan areas by the end of the year.”
Like true 4G which only works on a couple of handsets (like the WiMAX-ready HTC EVO 4G on Sprint), there’s a limited number of handsets that can handle HSPA+ advanced 3G. T-Mobile will release two next month — the Android powered myTouch 3G slide and the Garminfone, but currently has no handset for sale that can handle HSPA+.
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