AT&T announced completion of a software upgrade at 3G cell sites nationwide that prepares the nation's fastest 3G network for even faster speeds.
The deployment of High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology across 3G cell sites is the first of multiple initiatives in AT&T's network enhancement strategy designed to provide customers with the best possible mobile broadband experience, both today and well into the future. After full testing of HSPA 7.2 software, AT&T decided to expedite deployment of this initial upgrade, which will result in a better overall customer experience by generally improving consistency in accessing data sessions. The software upgrade also prepares the network for faster speeds and increases network efficiency.
Faster 3G speeds will come as AT&T combines the new technology with enhanced cell site backhaul connections over the course of 2010 and 2011. AT&T is in the midst of this second initiative to dramatically increase the number of high-speed backhaul connections to cell sites, primarily with fiber-optic connections, adding capacity from cell sites to the AT&T backbone network. The combination of HSPA 7.2 technology and enhanced backhaul will support theoretical peak maximum speeds of 7.2 megabits per second, though as with any mobile broadband network, actual speeds will be lower than the theoretical maximum and will vary due to a number of factors.
In addition to the HSPA 7.2 software, initial deployment of backhaul is already underway in the six U.S. cities announced in 2009 as initial HSPA 7.2 markets – Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Miami, with capabilities being turned up on a site-by-site basis beginning last month. Further backhaul deployment will continue in these markets and begin in additional markets across the nation. We anticipate that the majority of our mobile data traffic will be carried over the expanded fiber-based, HSPA 7.2-capable backhaul by the end of this year, with deployment continuing to expand in 2011.
"We are focused on providing our customers with the industry's best combination of mobile broadband speed, performance, coverage and available devices," said John Stankey, president and CEO, AT&T Operations, who announced the network updates at the Citigroup 20th Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference today. "As we light up new backhaul connections across the country, we're able to deliver a meaningful 3G speed boost for millions of customers who are already using HSPA 7.2-compatible devices. At the same time, we're also looking to the future with these backhaul enhancements, which will support our move to next-generation LTE technology starting in 2011."
As new backhaul connections are completed, AT&T 3G wireless customers will benefit from enhanced mobile broadband capacity, and the millions of AT&T customers who already have HSPA 7.2-compatible devices will immediately see the faster speeds enabled by the new technology. AT&T offers a total of 10 HSPA 7.2-compatible devices today, including the iPhone 3G S. Additional HSPA 7.2-compatible devices will be introduced in 2010.
The backhaul upgrades are also a key step in the evolution toward next-generation LTE mobile broadband technology. AT&T is designing its new backhaul deployments to accommodate both faster 3G and future LTE deployments. AT&T currently plans to begin trials of LTE technology this year, and to begin LTE deployment in 2011, matching industry time lines for widespread availability of compelling devices and supporting network equipment.
"Even as we look forward to LTE, 3G will be the predominant mobile broadband network technology worldwide for smartphones for the next few years," said Stankey. "AT&T's strategy will deliver faster 3G speeds over the next two years, while also allowing us to build the foundation for the LTE future."
The 3G and LTE upgrade initiatives follow a series of major enhancement projects in 2009 that have dramatically enhanced performance of AT&T's wireless network. AT&T last year deployed five times the number of backhaul connections compared with 2008. Additionally, AT&T in 2009 deployed high-quality 850 MHz spectrum in hundreds of markets to support 3G services and added thousands of new cell sites to expand and enhance 3G coverage. All told, in 2008 and through Q3 of 2009 AT&T invested approximately $19 billion toward wireless, with a focus on expanding and enhancing network capabilities, including network infrastructure, spectrum purchases and acquisitions.
These efforts have resulted in AT&T continuing to deliver the nation's fastest 3G network, and in delivering 3G national call retainability of 98.92 percent, meaning that only 1.08 percent of calls are dropped nationwide, based on 3G-specific, internal data.