T-Mobile’s HSPA+ Doubling Down on Speeds in 2011

T-Mobile today detailed plans to double its current 21 Mbps HSPA+ network and bring mobile broadband speeds up to 42 Mbps for 140 million potential customers by year-end. Speaking today at a CES press event, T-Mobile CEO and President Philipp Humm described the network improvements ahead of data demands, as the carrier now sees its average 4G smartphone customer — there are more than 900,000 of them now — use one gigabyte of data per month.

The company plans to launch 25 new devices this year that can take advantage of the faster network. Two such devices were shown today: the G-Slate Android 3.0 tablet announced last night and the Dell Streak 7 (s dell) which runs Android 2.2 (s goog). A new data stick capable of using the full 42 Mbps network, the webConnect Rocket 3.0, was demonstrated earlier at CES and will launch in the second quarter of this year. Handsets with 42 Mbps radios are expected at that time as well.

T-Mobile’s CES event was more than an hour long, so let me focus on some data points that jumped out at me during the conference:

  • The current 21 Mbps HSPA+ network covers 200 million POPs, 140 million of which will see 42 Mbps service before 2012.
  • Android is helping to move customers to T-Mobile’s data services: sales of Android devices were up 137 percent in 2010 from the prior year.
  • Video use on the network has jumped more than 300 percent in 2010.
  • The amount of data used by customers is doubling nearly every seven months. To help reduce bottlenecks due to greater demand, more than 70 percent of the data network backhaul has been improved through the use of fast fiber connections.
  • Testing of 42 Mbps HSPA+ compares favorably to Verizon’s (s vz) new LTE network in terms of speed and latency. CTO Neville Ray said LTE is a good technology that could be considered in the future, but only after it matures and becomes widely adopted. For the next several years then, it appears that T-Mobile will stay on an HSPA+ path; future advancements will come from dual-carrier and MIMO technologies.

The carrier was late to the 3G game, but appears confident where it stands in the 4G world, claiming it’s the “fastest and largest network” available in the U.S. That could be semantics or open to interpretation, but the numbers do appear to back up the words. If any of the CES attendees were in doubt, T-Mobile ran a live demo of the 42 Mbps service. Latency was low enough for online gaming and speed tests yielded an average download speed of 28 Mbps.

All that speed means it can be easier to eat through a data cap, but the carrier has no intention to change its current plans which are technically unlimited, but may be throttled after 5 GB of monthly use. T-Mobile is looking at higher end plans, however, so the unlimited broadband some enjoy today may cost more in the future. Until then, the carrier still plans to offer a $10 monthly 4G plan limited to 200 MB of data and the current unlimited plans.

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