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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 (s 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 (s t) which moved to a tiered pricing model just prior to the Apple iPhone 4 (s aapl) launch last month. Verizon (s vz) 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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4G: State of the Union

8 Responses to “T-Mobile Preps Network For First HSPA+ Handset”

  1. gargoyle999

    I’d like to know how T-Mobile comes up with the number of 100 million people covered. I live 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis and work 10 miles away and still only have 600-800kb down speeds in both areas. Nothing has changed in my area. No way they are at 100 million if areas right next to the actual city listed are not using HSPA+ right now.

  2. Great write up Kevin.

    So what are your thoughts on the T-Mobile’s first HSPA+ handset? If you are seeing 9.11 Mbp/s download and 2.73 Mbp/s upload on the webConnect — how awesome would that be on a smartphone? The handset is due out this summer.

    I am also hearing that the OEM might be might be HTC.

    • Thanks Ramon. Clearly an HSPA+ handset will be a treat to web-junkies but I think the biggest bang for buck would be to use such a device as a portable hotspot. Skype / video calling would be a nice benefactor from HSPA+ support too.

      Of course, I have no idea if the upcoming phone will offer those functions, nor do I know who is making it. However, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see it come from HTC, given the T-Mo / HTC collaborations in the past.

  3. Sunflower1970

    I have a Nexus one, in Austin–in downtown Austin right now–and I’m only pulling down average of about 1mb/s and upload around 380kb/s :-( I’d be thrilled to see 4mb/s download. So either my N1 can’t take some advantage of this new service, or this really hasn’t been rolled out in Austin, yet.

    • Hmm… I have to plead not-guilty since I didn’t test every new market. ;) Seriously, that’s a bummer. I just checked to see where Austin has HSPA+ coverage here:

      Looks like either the map isn’t up to date or the press release hit before T-Mo flipped the HSPA+ switch. Either that or I’m going color blind – a real possibility as it looks like Austin is all the same color.