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T-Mobile USA, announced today more than 25 major metropolitan areas across the U.S., have HSPA+ data service, and the company expects to cover more than 75 million Americans by the end of June. The high speed data network, which uses MIMO on USB Laptop Sticks, is the first HSPA+ network from a national U.S. wireless carrier.

T-Mobile says it currently has fifteen 3G devices that can benefit from the enhanced speeds, including T-Mobile’s newest smartphone — the Nokia E73.

T-Mobile says it expects to continue this aggressive pace to deliver HSPA+ speeds in 100 major metropolitan areas with backhaul in place, covering 185 million people in the U.S. by the end of this year.

HSPA+ is easier roll out than LTE, because it’s overlaid over T-Mobile’s existing 3G footprint. Unfortunately, T-Mobile uses different spectrum (in the AWS band, 2.1/1.7 GHz), so data roaming between another carrier (like GSM-based AT&T) doesn’t seem particularly likely.

HSPA+ (wiki) is a standard defined in 3GPP release 7. HSPA+ depends on higher-order modulation for its capacity boost, but it must often “downshift” when mobile. At the cell edge and even at half the distance to the cell edge there may only be slight increase compared with 14.4 Mbit/s HSDPA unless a wider channel than 5 MHz is used, says Wikipedia.

Ericsson says the performance of HSPA and Mobile WiMAX technologies is comparable (pdf). Both offer similar peak data rates, spectral efficiency and network complexity. But Ericsson says HSPA requires fewer towers for the same coverage and capacity. On the other hand, more WiMAX towers and capacity, one might argue, could be advantageous for users.

PC Magazine performed a Hands-On Test between WiMAX vs. HSPA+. The verdict?


In HSPA+ mode, I got an average of 3.1 megabits down, with a peak at 7.7 megabits. Uploads zipped along at an average of 1.26 megabits down, with a peak of 2.02 megabits. That compared favorably with the older WebConnect stick (which averaged 2.57 megabits down and 798 kilobits up) and with the best WiMAX device, the Sprint U301 (2.25 megabits down, 708 kilobits up.)

My Clear USB modem (with antenna dock) is right now delivering a fairly typical 6.5 Mbps down and 840 Kbps up for $40/month (see speed test above). It’s completely unlimited service and replaces my DSL service while also doubling as a mobile dongle.

Clear’s value proposition is hard to beat — until you move out of a WiMAX service area. I rarely do, so it works for me. Clear promises WiMAX coverage to 120 million people by the end of 2010, a figure that seems as optimistic as Verizon’s promise of 30 LTE markets, covering 100 million people, by year’s end, and plans to cover its entire 3G footprint by 2013.

Of course no company has a true “4G” mobile phone system yet. Real “4G” won’t happen until 2012 or later.

Neither LTE (from Verizon and AT&T), WiMAX (from Sprint), nor HSPA+ (from T-Mobile) are “4G”. An ITU-approved “4G” phone system must deliver 100 Mbps (mobile) and 1 Gbps (fixed) speeds.

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