BendBroadband, a Bend, Ore.-based cable operator, this morning launched a next-generation wireless broadband network that uses HSPA+ technology, thus becoming the first company in the U.S. to do so. T-Mobile USA has a trial network up and running in Philadelphia, though it has yet to launch a commercial service.

HSPA+ is an upgrade to the current generation of 3G technologies and is also known as Evolved HSPA. It can provide downstream connectivity of up to 56 megabits per second (Mbps) and upstream connections of 22 Mbps.

BendBroadband can offer connections of up to 15 Mbps to its customers, though in reality they’ll typically get closer to 6-8 Mbps. The small, family-owned cable company can also now offer broadband and voice services to residents of certain rural communities. The broadband connections will come in two flavors — fixed and mobile — and will cost anywhere from $20-$80 a month.

BendBroadband may be the first to formally launch a wireless broadband service using HSPA+ technology, but it seems several small (and large) players are interested in going down this same route. This is a good, cheap way for them to extend their broadband footprints, without doing expensive co-ax cable buildouts in less populated areas. The U.S. government recently began accepting applications for stimulus funds aimed at boosting broadband, and as Stacey reported, the less populated areas and small independent carriers were expected to be the big winners of the government largesse.

Another big backer of HSPA+ in the U.S. is T-Mobile USA. Back in May, T-Mobile CTO Cole Brodman told me that “in 2010, you’re going to see us start to integrate HSPA+ into our network.

[With] HSPA+, I think you’ll see the ability to see peaks that are three to five times that. A lot of it at that point will start to come down to device capability. I don’t think you’ll see that capability in a smartphone, but I think it’s very possible to see it in a data stick and maybe a netbook that has the chip architecture and the memory to support it. In the future, we’ll see rates that are even greater than that, but I think that’s beyond 2010.

T-Mobile is in a mortal combat with AT&T (s t), Verizon (s vz) and Sprint (s fon) to attract big-spending data customers. The company has bet big on Android (s goog) and now needs a faster, more capable network in order to compete against its bigger rivals.