AT&T Announces LTE Phones, Says 2/3 of Markets Have HSPA+

October 31, 2011

AT&T’s game of catch-up in the Long Term Evolution (LTE) networking game took a big leap forward today with the announcement of two LTE-capable smartphones for AT&T, Android-powered offerings from HTC and Samsung. AT&T also announced the addition of the next markets to get LTE service, a list that includes Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Athens, Ga.

Though the LTE advancements are welcome for a nation looking for more high-speed networking what may be more significant to AT&T customers is a claim that the company says it has now completed the software and backhaul improvements to support its HSPA+ flavor of 4G over two-thirds of its coverage area, meaning that AT&T no longer has to call out its 4G markets like it did earlier this summer. When you now go to the AT&T 4G coverage map the only “new” markets highlighted are the ones with LTE or about to get LTE; there is no longer any pop-up distinction for the 4G HSPA+ coverage, like the map had earlier this year.

Though AT&T still won’t publish a list of HSPA+-enabled markets — we are still asking company spokespeople to point us to one, if one exists — our guess is now that the LTE launch is finally underway AT&T doesn’t have to play its we’ll-call-anything-4G game anymore. We’d still like to see a coverage map with more honesty, however, with actual tower locations and expected coverage speeds. But we’re not holding our breath.

AT&T Now Has 19 More Locations with ‘4G’ HSPA+, including New York City and LA

July 17, 2011

The news that AT&T was finally getting serious about launching its late-to-the-game LTE service got us thinking about AT&T’s HSPA+ rollout map, the hunt-and-see game where you try to find active HSPA+ markets by rolling your cursor over a map (instead, of say, reading a list off a press release). If you remember in our first discovery the map wasn’t very active, with only 10 active HSPA+ markets (and at the time no HSPA+ compatible phones).

So how’s AT&T doing now? Apparently all that heaven and earth moving is reaping benefits — by our count there are 19 new cities or regions now designated as “active” with HSPA+ services. As usual with AT&T network performance your mileage may vary. But our new list includes the following locales:

California towns:
– Greater Los Angeles area
– San Diego
– Sacramento
– Bakersfield
– Modesto

– San Antonio
– Austin

– Jacksonville
– Tampa

Other towns and regions:
– Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.
– Hartford, Conn.
– Syracuse, N.Y.
– Greater New York City
– Southern New England
– Eastern Pennsylvania
– St. Louis, Mo.
– Kansas City
– “Michigan”
– Anchorage, Ak

What does this mean for the AT&T ‘4G’ customer? Well now there are more places where you may, might, kinda not sure but maybe, might get some faster network performance. As AT&T says itself when you ask how fast its 4G is:

Just how fast is AT&T 4G?
With enhanced backhaul AT&T is seeing network speeds up to approximately 6 Mbps. Actual speeds experienced will vary and depend on several factors, including location, device, environment, and capacity. LTE is expected to deliver even faster speeds.

The money quote: “Actual speeds experienced will vary.” True dat.

LTE Data Roaming: Not Happening Anytime Soon

April 26, 2011

One thing to think about as you consider that shiny new 4G phone purchase — if you are looking at the snazzy new LTE devices from Verizon Wireless or the upcoming ones being promised for later this year from AT&T, get used to the fact that your data service won’t “roam” when you are outside of your carrier’s 4G coverage area. Instead, you will likely drop back to 3G or slower service when roaming — and that’s going to be the case for quite some time.

Why is this happening? Mainly because the biggest carriers in the U.S. market, AT&T and Verizon, are using different parts of the 700 MHz frequency band for their LTE networks — and right now it’s cost- and management-prohibitive to put additional chips into the new phones just to support roaming onto another carrier’s service.

Fierce Wireless has a good recap of some hearings in Washington D.C. yesterday where smaller carriers are fighting the big boys, trying to get the gubmint to require that data roaming for 4G services in the 700 MHz band is made possible. There might eventually be some FCC prodding, but the bottom line for consumers is that this ain’t happening anytime soon.

Right now the 4G phones from Verizon as well as the forthcoming ones from AT&T are loaded with little radio chips, and there simply isn’t room or the budget for more. In AT&T’s case, the phones will need to support the company’s several flavors of 2G and 3G networks (EDGE and HSPA+), its forthcoming LTE network which will run on two different bands of spectrum (700 MHz and AWS, needing a separate chip for each), as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — we are guessing that in a pinch if you are cold you can turn on all the radios and let the phone heat your house.

Customers who have purchased 4G devices from Sprint or Clearwire are also subject to this problem, mainly because their 4G implementation uses WiMAX at a frequency that no other major carrier has yet implemented. The Clearwire/Sprint network right now covers 71-plus markets, while the Verizon network is at 45 city markets and 60 airports, with plans to add another 140 to 170 by the end of the year. AT&T has not yet said how many markets it plans to cover with LTE in 2011, only that it will launch some services before year-end.

So for 4G data customers — when you are in your provider’s coverage area you are fine, but when you are roaming about you may be slowed back down to the world of 3G. And it’s going to be that way for a while.