AT&T Announces Upgrades Just in Time for New iPhone

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A news item yesterday on iLounge reports AT&T will be upgrading its existing 3G network to provide a “significantly faster” mobile Internet service. The communications giant is planning to double its current 3G network speeds and expand its cell coverage.

From AT&T’s own press release:

The upgrade to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology is part of AT&T’s plan for continued investments to deliver the nation’s best mobile broadband experience — the ideal combination of speed, coverage and best device line-up. AT&T today has the nation’s fastest 3G network and has attracted more than twice the number of smartphone users than any other competitor.

While the expanded cell coverage (AT&T is deploying over 2,000 new cell sites throughout the country) will hopefully reduce the number of dropped or failed calls for iPhone users, the improvements in mobile broadband speeds appear to be limited to larger cities and other metropolitan areas.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, said, “With the array of smartphones, laptops and emerging devices taking advantage of AT&T’s 3G network today, we know that customers are excited to experience higher mobile broadband speeds, and we are deploying the right technologies at the right times to help them get the most from that experience.”

The new upgraded network could, according to AT&T, allow theoretical peak-speeds of 7.2Mbps. For those of us hoping to see bandwidth-hungry applications and services (such as HD YouTube video down/uploads, video calling or TV/Movie downloading) on the next-generation iPhone, this sounds like a step in the right direction, though AT&T does carefully point out that:

Typical real-world downlink and uplink speeds experienced by customers with upgraded 3G will be less than the theoretical peak and will vary based on a number of factors, including location, device, and overall traffic on the local network at a given time.

Still, the upgrades are sorely needed and should be warmly welcomed by iPhone customers. A word of warning, though: Despite the announcement yesterday, AT&T doesn’t expect to see these upgrades completed and fully deployed until the end of 2011. So why announce it now? Well, it’s exciting news for its existing customers, and probably has nothing at all to do with the fact that a great many of its iPhone customers’ contracts are about to expire…

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