Number two US operator AT&T Wireless yesterday unveiled specific plans to upgrade its mobile networks, a move clearly aimed at derailing rival Verizon’s momentum with LTE technology. Building on earlier promises to double the speed of its HSPA network by 2011 (offering peak theoretical download speeds of 7.2Mb/s), AT&T announced that this technology will be available in six cities – Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami – by the end of this year. The operator plans to deploy ‘HSPA 7.2’ in 25 of the nation’s 30 largest markets by the end of 2010, and to reach about 90 percent of its existing 3G network footprint with HSPA 7.2 by the end of 2011. The upgrade will be matched with investment in backhaul capacity.

Detailing its plans in a statement, AT&T made a concerted effort to talk up the benefits of HSPA technology compared to nascent ‘next-generation’ LTE technology that rival Verizon is planning to launch next year. AT&T said it will have six HSPA 7.2-compatible smartphones on offer by the end of the year, as well as two new LaptopConnect datacards. “In contrast,” it noted, “LTE devices are still in development.” The operator did though confirm plans to begin trialling LTE in 2010 followed by commercial deployment in 2011, lagging Verizon’s plans by about a year. “With HSPA 7.2, we’re making the nation’s fastest 3G network even faster, and we’ll be able to deploy this technology before LTE networks, devices and equipment grow to scale,” commented John Stankey, president and CEO, AT&T Operations. “Even as we look forward to LTE, we know that 3G will be the predominant mobile broadband network technology worldwide for smartphones for the next few years.” AT&T has previously said it plans to invest up to US$18 billion in network and technology development this year, with a significant proportion earmarked for mobile technology.