by Al Sacco

AT&T, T-Mobile Vaunted 3G Upgrades Meaningless to BlackBerry Users

Jan 20, 2010
CarriersData CenterMobile

Wireless carriers AT&T and T-Mobile both announced major upgrades to their 3G cellular networks for max data transfer speeds of 7.2Mbps. That's all fine and good for AT&T and T-Mobile customers who live in certain cities and own compatible devices...but the bad news is all BlackBerry users are currently out of luck.

UDPATED: Since this story was originally posted, it has been updated to include a comment from T-Mobile regarding its ongoing 7.2Mbps HSPA network upgrade.

Earlier this month, on January 5, both AT&T and T-Mobile announced new upgrades to their 3G HSPA cellular networks in the United States, designed to boost maximum data transfer speeds over said networks to 7.2Mbps. That’s more than double the current average 3G speeds–even triple in some cases.

Sounds good, right? The more speed, the better, yes?

Graphic of BlackBerry Bold 9700 with AT&T and T-Mobile logos

Sure. But it’s not that simple. And if you’re a “CrackBerry” addict like me, you’re probably not going to like the bottom line about this news…

First of all, lists of the AT&T and T-Mobile smartphones that support 7.2 HSPA. Here are AT&T’s five 3G HSPA 7.2 smartphones:

  • iPhone 3GS
  • HTC Tilt2
  • Samsung Jack
  • LG eXpo

And T-Mobile’s six 3G smartphones that support 7.2 HSPA:

  • T-Mobile myTouch 3G
  • T-Mobile G1
  • Motorola CLIQ
  • Samsung Behold II
  • HTC Touch Pro2
  • T-Mobile Dash 3G

Notice anything funny, BlackBerry users? You should: there’s not a single BlackBerry device in either list.

AT&T currently offers two 3G BlackBerrys: the BlackBerry Bold 9000 and the Bold 9700. T-Mobile offers just one 3G BlackBerry: the Bold 9700. But none of them support HSPA 7.2, according to BlackBerry-maker RIM.

That’s right: No HSPA 7.2 for you, BlackBerry Bold users.

What’s worse? (Or better depending on your device of choice…) The “anti-BlackBerry,” Apple’s iPhone 3GS supports HSPA 7.2, according to AT&T–not the iPhone or iPhone 3G, only the iPhone 3GS.

Now, a bit more background on AT&T and T-Mobile’s network updates. Though both carriers announced the new 7.2 HSPA networks, it’s unclear to what extent the new speeds are actually available to their wireless customers. For example, T-Mobile’s announcement stated that it “enabled HSPA 7.2 across the network,” which seems to suggest the higher data speeds are available, well, across the network. But this seems unlikely to me.

As AT&T pointed out in its announcement, made shortly after T-Mobile released its 7.2 HSPA news, a 3G network upgrade to 7.2 HSPA typically happens in two main stages: a software-update for all the cell-sites; and a cell-site “backhaul,” in which physical infrastructure is upgraded and/or replaced.

To AT&T’s credit, it was more clear about where it’s at in this process than T-Mobile; AT&T says it has completed the first stage of update–the software-part–at all of its U.S cell-sites, and the second-stage backhauls are underway across the nation, with HSPA 7.2 currently available in six cities: Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, Calif.; and Miami, Fla.

And AT&T PR rep Seth Bloom told me that the carrier expects to have “the majority” of its 3G traffic on HSPA 7.2 by the end of this year.

I assume that T-Mobile is in a similar stage of the upgrade process, with the software-update complete, and I reached out for clarification. But I hadn’t heard back from T-Mobile PR at the time of publication for this post. (I’ll update my story as soon as possible.)

(UPDATE: Here’s what T-Mobile had to say: “[W]e are continuing to increase backhaul in-line with our network upgrades to support these faster speeds. We have not released additional details at this time, but I’ll keep you posted on T-Mobile network news as we have more details to share.” In other words: The T-Mobile HSPA 7.2 upgrade is NOT complete, contrary to a variety of news reports.)

Still, even if AT&T and T-Mobile complete the full HSPA network upgrades tomorrow, you won’t be able to take advantage of them via AT&T and T-Mobile BlackBerry smartphones. That’s because none of the BlackBerry devices available through either carrier support HSPA data transfer speeds higher than 3.6Mbps. AT&T’s Bloom did, however, mention that the carrier’s upgraded network could result in an improved data experienced for all users on 3G, but you still won’t get the new, higher speeds.

Ironically, the one BlackBerry device sold in the United States that does support HSPA 7.2 is Verizon Wireless’s BlackBerry Storm2 9550. The Storm2 is designed to run on Verizon’s 3G CDMA EVDO Rev. A network, which only supports data transfer speeds of 3.1Mbps, RIM says, but it’ll also work on 3G GSM/HSPA networks (2100MHz) at up to 7.2Mbps data speeds. (Note: The Storm2 won’t work on either AT&T or T-Mobile’s 3G networks, due a lack of appropriate band-support.)

Future BlackBerry smartphones will no doubt support HSPA 7.2 as the upgraded networks become more widespread. But for now, AT&T and T-Mobile’s recent 7.2Mbps 3G upgrades mean nothing to BlackBerry users.


FREE CIO BlackBerry Newsletter

Get better use out of your BlackBerry and keep up-to-date on the latest developments. Sign-up »