AT&T scored a coup in the mobile phone market when it locked up the exclusive contract for the Apple iPhone and the subsequent iPhone 3G. The iPhone is the most popular smartphone around and continues to win the carrier new customers.
Telephony Online reports that AT&T is currently working to upgrade its existing 3G network to handle double the current peak speeds and more concurrent users. Currently, the AT&T 3G network is capable of a maximum download speeds of 3.6Mbps.
AT&T is upgrading central stations with new software that will double that peak download speed from 3.6Mbps to 7.2Mbps. AT&T has a pair of test networks running today and is certifying devices for operating on the enhanced 3G network.
With 4G on the near horizon, AT&T is also looking at moving speeds higher with the coming implementation of evolved-HSPA or HSPA+ that could triple the peak download speeds of the new upgraded network. HSPA can theoretically support speeds of 14.4Mb/s over a 5MHz downlink, but the technology to enable those speeds wasn't available when HSPA first launched.
The next step would seem to be moving the current 3G network up to the max 14.4Mbps speed, but AT&T says it will not do that. The reason is that there have been technical issues surrounding implementing 14.4Mbps speeds on HSPA and HSPA+ is ready to go and offers peak download speeds of 21Mbps. It makes little sense to upgrade to 14.4Mbps when the company could just as easily go to 21 Mbps.
AT&T's Scott McElroy said that in addition to updating peak download speeds on its network, the company is also adding more capacity to support more users at the faster data speeds. The new backend work may mean that previously unserved areas can get access to 3G networks. That may prove to be the added kick AT&T needs to move even more iPhone 3G devices.
AT&T's main competitor Verizon Wireless plans to begin launching its 4G network later this year.