This ought to satisfy any remaining doubters that the next Apple (s AAPL) iPhone will support faster 3G speeds on AT&T’s (s T) network. Telephony Online shares news that’s not entirely unexpected: AT&T is in the process of upgrading their 3G network:
“AT&T is increasing the downlink capacity on its high-speed packet access (HSPA) from 3.6 megabits per second to 7.2 Mb/s through software upgrades at the base station, said Scott McElroy, AT&T Mobility vice president of technology realization. AT&T currently has the enhanced networks running in two test markets but plans to extend those capabilities to its entire network.”
AT&T successfully tested 7.2Mbps in the HSPA labs last year and expected to see rollouts this year. The current theoretical limit for the carrier’s network is 3.6Mbps, so this upgrade is an effective doubling of the theoretical top speeds. In the real world, I’m expecting to see around 3-4 Mbps in a best-case scenario. That’s only marginally slower than what I’ve seen with WiMAX in Baltimore. The HSPA upgrade is done via software, but of course connected devices must be hardware-capable of the higher throughput for the faster wireless speeds.
While this is good news, the wireless data speed is only half of the equation. AT&T is also going to have to invest in backhaul, or the connection from the cell towers to the web. You can have all the superbly fast wireless connections in the world, but if the signals get funneled through a thin pipe, you’re going to have a painful experience.