AT&T Quietly Launches HSPA+ 4G: LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Dallas Make the List

When AT&T announced the availability of the HTC Inspire last month I thought it was kinda funny that nobody picked up on the fact that AT&T was selling what it called a “4G smartphone” but wouldn’t tell anyone where the company’s “4G” HSPA+ service was up and running. Without any fanfare, press release or even a list, all that has apparently changed now since AT&T’s 4G promo page now lets you drill down to see very detailed network-coverage maps showing live HSPA+ services in several big cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Boston, among a few others.


AT&T 4G coverage map screenshot, showing a live market in San Francisco.


Though Ma Bell has been busy pumping out a lot of dull and repetitive press releases about pending network upgrades — the kind of blizzard of no-news facts that are routinely ignored — there is no press release announcing the list of active HSPA+ markets, just the map which an online chat rep says is being “updated daily.” (Of course this online chat rep also told us cheerily that “4G isn’t launching until June,” an error we mistook as a new probable arrival date for AT&T’s other 4G service, its LTE network.) Remember, by AT&T’s own definition an HSPA+ service area isn’t fully “4G” until “enhanced backhaul” is deployed. Apparently those fiber lines have now been connected, because the where is 4G FAQ page has now added a link directing you to the interactive map, which shows live markets ONLY when they are cursored over.

Anyway — to save you some time we cursored over the map and apparently HSPA+ services are now live in the following cities:

– San Francisco (including north to Santa Rosa)
– Chicago
– Dallas/Fort Worth
– Boston
– Providence, R.I.
– Houston
– Charlotte, N.C.
– Buffalo, N.Y.
– Puerto Rico
– Baltimore

Unlike AT&T’s 3G coverage maps, which painted the whole world a heavenly data-covered blue, the new 4G coverage maps seem to have a bit of honesty built in, perhaps not to the level of siting towers like Clearwire does but still showing some gaps, an incredible step forward in the transparency department for AT&T. Here’s a quick screen grab of the pop-up Dallas map, showing where you can and can’t get 4G HSPA+ service in the Big D:


AT&T 4G coverage map of Dallas, showing HSPA+ coverage in dark blue.

At CES, AT&T CTO John Donovan was puzzlingly coy about how and where AT&T would launch its 4G services, not committing to a list of cities like Verizon did with its LTE rollout. And up until today, the AT&T website has provided mainly confusing doubletalk, claiming that its network infrastructure was 4G-ready (a claim made easy because on the back end all that was required was a software upgrade) while also leaning heavily on the following disclaimer: “*4G speeds require a 4G device and are delivered when HSPA+ technology is combined with enhanced backhaul. 4G speeds available in limited areas with availability increasing with ongoing backhaul deployment.”

That asterisk-laden dodge was all we had to go on when we noticed that AT&T was selling 4G smartphones but not telling anyone where they could use them. Now, if the coverage map is to be believed, all that has changed and some special markets including Puerto Rico can now test for themselves whether AT&T’s HSPA+ network is really “4G” or not.

What this means for potential AT&T customers is that the new smartphones being launched by Ma Bell — including the Motorola Atrix, the HTC Inspire and the not-yet-released Samsung Infuse — should now be able to surf the web at speeds a bit higher than AT&T’s 3G network can produce, at least theoretically. Anyone out there in the wild getting HSPA+ 4G speeds from their new AT&T toys? Share your Speedtests in the comments below.

10 Responses to “AT&T Quietly Launches HSPA+ 4G: LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Dallas Make the List”

  1. AT&T’s Less-Than-Transparent 4G Coverage Map: Broadband News and Analysis « Says:

    […] such as Dallas, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago showing faster “4G” wireless speeds. Paul Kapustka explains over at Sidecut Reports that the carrier has been pretty coy about its coming 4G launch using the […]

  2. David Says:

    I have the motorola atrix. full bars where i love in the los ageles area. i am currently getting an average of 1.5 mb down and .25 mb up. definitley slower than the iphone 4. im not even getting 3G speeds anymore

  3. Brooke Says:

    I’m in Santa Rosa. What are HSPA+ speeds (theory and real-life) and what phone do I need to get them?

    Thanks.

  4. Paul Says:

    Brooke, AT&T is saying only that speeds could be in the 6 Mbps range — but you need a new “4G” phone like the Atrix to get the new speeds. So old phones would see no different speeds.

  5. Brooke Says:

    Thanks, Paul. I’m getting just under 3 now (iPhone 4), so 6 would be nice. Iphone 5 likely to get these “4g” rates? Not married to Apple …

    I like the HTC 4g phone. It’ll get those dl rates (don’t care so much about ul)? I heard the phones were throttled.

    Also, I’d been hearing about 10-14, even 21 Mbps. Just theoretical, or will we see these rates in the next 12-18 months?

    Thanks.

  6. Paul Says:

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for 10-14 or 21 from AT&T (or from T-Mob for that matter) unless you are right under the tower and there are no other cell users around. Theoretical is just that, something that doesn’t happen in real life.

    You will notice that neither AT&T nor T-Mobile advertises an “average” expected speed for their glorious 4G networks. Potential customers would do well to ask “why not?”

  7. Brooke Says:

    Do the currect “4G” phones turn in even the 6 Mbps in today’s covered areas?

    I’m thinking the iPhone 5 won’t, and am eying a switch to Android … Thoughts?

  8. Paul Says:

    Brooke, I think we will have to wait a few months to see how user testing on the AT&T 4G phones pans out. Seems like for right now there are some issues with AT&T throttling functionality, so it may take some time to shake out. If you need the speed right away the Android phones are all announced in the 4G space so they should be able to use the faster network out of the box. the iPhone 5 is still speculative… and I would doubt Apple would launch anything that wasn’t on a fully functional/widely available network. It seems to be their style to wait until network technology is more ubiquitous which makes sense given Apple’s ease of use heritage.

    So bottom line if you want speed it is going to be Android for the near future.

  9. Brooke Says:

    Thanks so much, Paul. This is a geek thing, nothing I need. Happy to let things sort themselves out for now.
    Thanks again for taking the time.

  10. ryan Says:

    I live in concord about 30 min from san francisco and have seen no change in upload or download speeds. Still about 3mbps and. 15 mbps up.

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