T-Mobile Preps Network For First HSPA+ Handset

T-Mobile today added faster HSPA+ mobile broadband coverage to 16 markets, raising the availability of a network that can deliver theoretical wireless speeds of 21 Mbps. With this latest expansion, T-Mobile says 100 million Americans are covered by HSPA+ in 50 areas of the U.S.

The carrier also released an updated version of its webConnect Rocket dongle, which means T-Mobile 16 devices will see faster upload and download speeds. Not all of them, however, will be able to take full advantage of the new network. For the moment, device wireless speeds are limited by the internal radio capabilities on the phones and USB data sticks, typically at 7.2 Mbps. But my own hands-on testing of the 21 Mbps network showed a noticeable increase in transfer speeds on my Nexus One handset: more than 4 Mbps down simply by being in an HSPA+ coverage area, as shown at the end of my video below. T-Mobile has confirmed its first HSPA+ handset will arrive later this summer. I expect to see download speeds peaking near 10 Mbps on such a device when in the HSPA+ coverage areas.

T-Mobile is referring to these faster speeds as “4G-like,” a clear riff on Sprint’s next-generation WiMAX network, which currently advertises downloads between three and six Mbps. Essentially, both carriers are positioning their marketing with such terms. Sprint’s WiMAX network technically isn’t 4G according to standards set by the International Telecommunication Union, for example. And T-Mobile’s upgraded network is more of an enhancement to its 3G infrastructure, even though it offers speeds that compete well with that of Sprint’s WiMAX network.

For now, T-Mobile has made no changes to the way it prices data plans, even though the carrier witnessed a 700 percent increase in demand for data in New York once HSPA+ was rolled out there. Earlier this year, T-Mobile dropped its 5 GB data cap in theory — customers that exceed the limit won’t be charged for additional data, but the carrier may slow down the wireless pipe for the remainder of a customer’s billing cycle. This approach differs greatly from that of AT&T which moved to a tiered pricing model just prior to the Apple iPhone 4 launch last month. Verizon too has strongly hinted at pay-per-use data plans once it launches an LTE 4G network later this year.

The newest cities covered by T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network include Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Waco, Texas; Baltimore, Md.; Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton, Ohio; Ft. Lauderdale and Jacksonville, Fla.; Greenville, S.C.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Indianapolis, Ind.; Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Portland, Ore.; and Wichita, Kan.

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