Mar 10 AT 7:07 PM Taylor Wimberly 45 Comments

AT&T 4G HSPA+ is a fast network for fast people, if you hack your phone and live in the right city

AT&T recently began the big push to start promoting their 4G network and phones. Their company website boasts, “With 4G from AT&T, you can do more, see more, and enjoy more on what is already the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network.”

It sounds wonderful, but make sure you read the fine print.

Buried at the bottom of their site it reads, “4G speeds require a 4G device and are delivered when HSPA+ technology is combined with enhanced backhaul. 4G speeds available in limited areas with availability increasing with ongoing backhaul deployment.”

Earlier this year AT&T announced they had deployed HSPA+ to virtually 100% of their mobile broadband network, but only a handful of cities have the advanced backhaul to deliver 4G speeds. It appears that around a dozen markets have 4G speeds according to AT&T’s network map.

Current areas with 4G coverage include:

  • Northern California
  • Bay Area, CA
  • Greater Los Angeles, CA
  • Greater Dallas, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • Chicago, IL
  • Charolette, NC
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Boston, MA
  • Providence, RI
  • Puerto Rico

We don’t know when 4G speeds will be coming to other markets, but AT&T says they hope to have 2/3 of their mobile traffic be delivered over their enhanced backhaul by the end of 2011.

Another disappointing fact about AT&T’s 4G network is that their only two 4G handsets, the Atrix 4G and Inspire 4G, both have High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) disabled at this time. That means the upload speeds on AT&T’s 4G phones are limited to a rather slow 300 kbps, while older 3G phones like the iPhone 4 can deliver upload speeds in excess of 1.5 Mbps (5x faster).

Users who have hacked the Inspire 4G and loaded custom ROMs were able to enable HSUPA and “unlock” the device’s true 4G speeds, so we know the hardware is capable delivering what was promised.

Thankfully AT&T can turn on the “4G speeds” of their 4G devices with a simple firmware upgrade, but users will still have to be in one of the limited markets with enhanced backhaul to experience the faster performance.

For now, AT&T 4G is major disappointment.

Update: An unofficial response from the @ATT Twitter account reads, “If you aren’t happy with your device and it’s within 30 days of purchase, we’d be happy to let you return it.”

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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