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AT&T moves closer to usage-based fees for data

December 9, 2009 10:43 AM ET

But his major focus was on network improvements that are under way, including an 850MHz spectrum overlay and installation of HSPA 7.2 software. The HSPA 7.2 improvement will double network throughput speeds with a theoretical maximum download speed of 7.2 Mbit/sec, something that will be complete in six cities by the end of this year, with 25 cities online by mid-2010, de la Vega said.

While he didn't name the six cities -- and a spokesman wouldn't either in a follow-up question -- faster HSPA 7.2 speeds would be noticed "immediately" by iPhone 3GS users. It "...will be smoking," he said.

De la Vega conceded there have been slow network issues for AT&T users in Manhattan and the financial district of San Francisco, problems already noted by many analysts. Networks in both areas have performed "below standards" he said.

In Manhattan, the use of a new 850Mhz channel has helped AT&T "turn the corner...and you'll see gradual improvements," he said. "You'll see this is going to be fixed. We'll do a lot better." The signal on that 850Mhz spectrum travels further than on some other channels and penetrates buildings better, he said.

In the financial area of San Francisco, de la Vega conceded that cell tower antennas "need to be replaced" since they were really designed for older networks. That upgrade has "gone slower than we wanted."

Using HSPA 7.2 will be a good interim step for data customers until LTE technology is installed, de la Vega said. While Verizon is moving ahead with some rollouts of LTE in 2010, de la Vega argued that that coverage will only be in pockets; AT&T customers will have wider access to HSPA 7.2 technology.

AT&T is planning LTE trials in 2010 and commercial availability in 2011, he said.

Read more about Mobile/Wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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