AT&T announced its plans for deployment of HSPA 7.2 3G wireless technology topping out at 7.2 Mbps, doubling the speed of AT&T’s current offerings and serving as an intermediate step to the deployment of LTE (4G) several years down the road. AT&T plans to begin rolling out the improvements later this year and will take until 2011 to fully deploy the necessary equipment. LTE trials are scheduled for 2010 with deployment to begin in 2011.

     The upgrade to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology is part of AT&T’s plan for continued investments to deliver the nation’s best mobile broadband experience & the ideal combination of speed, coverage and best device line-up. AT&T today has the nation’s fastest 3G network and has attracted more than twice the number of smartphone users than any other competitor.

     With its network built on the 3G UMTS technology that is commonly deployed throughout the world, AT&T can boost the speed of its mobile broadband network and offer a wide variety of devices to take advantage of it well in advance of 2011-2012, when most industry observers expect 4G LTE networks and device availability to scale. AT&T plans to begin LTE trials in 2010, with deployment beginning in 2011.

     As part of and alongside its move to HSPA 7.2, AT&T announced a series of initiatives that it is planning to undertake this year:

Near-Doubling Radio Frequency Capacity. In 2008 and 2009 to date, high-quality 850 MHz spectrum has been deployed in more than half of AT&T’s 3G network footprint to improve overall coverage and in-building reception, with additional markets planned for later in the year.
More Bandwidth to Cell Sites. We are adding fiber-optic connectivity and additional capacity to thousands of cell sites across the country this year, expanding the critical connections that deliver traffic from a cell site into the global IP backbone network. These upgrades will support the higher mobile broadband speeds enabled by both HSPA 7.2 and LTE.
More Cell Sites. Deployment of about 2,100 new cell sites across the country.
Wi-Fi Integration. Many AT&T smartphones will be able to switch seamlessly between 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. AT&T customers with qualifying smartphone and 3G LaptopConnect plans have access to the nation’s largest Wi-Fi network & more than 20,000 hotspots, including locations in all 50 states & at no additional charge. AT&T’s global Wi-Fi footprint covers more than 90,000 hotspots, and AT&T also can create permanent or temporary extended Wi-Fi zones in areas with high 3G network use, like a grouping of hotels or a festival.
MicroCells. Customer trials leading toward general availability of AT&T 3G MicroCell offerings, which utilize femtocells to enhance in-building wireless coverage.

     AT&T’s announcement verifies official statements made last month by AT&T executive Scott McElroy regarding the move to 7.2 Mbps 3G, although it does not address the possibility of 21 Mbps HSPA+ raised in the previous report.

     A number of rumors over the past few months, including some as recently as yesterday, have pointed to the inclusion of support for the new 7.2 Mbps “3.5G” standard in the next-generation iPhone rumored for release within the next couple of months.