AT&T to enable faster uploads for Atrix, Inspire in April

Buyers beware: "No guarantees in life and wireless service"

AT&T today said it plans to turn on faster upload speeds for the Motorola Atrix 4G and HTC Inspire 4G sometime in April after incurring customer wrath for not offering the faster speeds when the devices launched in February.

"We'll have updates for both the Atrix 4G and Inspire 4G in April that will bring [higher speed] HSUPA," an AT&T spokeswoman said via e-mail Wednesday. "Also, the Samsung Infuse 4G will ship with HSUPA capabilities at launch."

Until that update is released, concerned Atrix customers such as Texas resident Keith Geissler will have to rely on slower upload speeds of perhaps 300 Kbit/sec over AT&T's existing GSM/EV-DO network.

The faster HSUPA network capability from AT&T, now being rolled out, could support speeds 10 times faster than EV-DO if it were turned on. The Atrix and Inspire were advertised by AT&T at the launch in February as offering 4G speeds, which in AT&T's case means HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access for uploads) and HSDPA (for downloads), or HSPA+ to cover both directions. Theoretical speeds with HSUPA could reach 5 Mbit/sec.

Geissler complained in early March to the Better Business Bureau about not getting the full HSUPA speed from AT&T with his Atrix purchase, prompting a response from AT&T that Geissler posted on a developer blog recently.

In that response, AT&T claimed it was not capping his upload speeds: "Be assured that AT&T has not 'capped' the upload speeds on the Atrix. The Atrix is a HSUPA-capable device, and we currently are performing the testing and preparations necessary to ensure that, when we turn this feature on, you will continue to have a world-class experience."

Two analysts today theorized that AT&T was indeed telling the truth that HSUPA ability was not being capped, but is simply not yet widely available. AT&T, in its advertising for the two phones, notes that 4G speeds (over HSPA) are possible , but adds that such "coverage [is] not available in all areas."

(Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Geissler's concern is "less of a throttling issue and more of an issue that perhaps AT&T's HSPA network is not yet ready for prime-time."

Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner, said that the HSPA speeds require fiber optic cable backhaul connections from individual cell towers to switching centers, but added, "only a small percentage of towers have fiber.... AT&T is in a transitional period."

The software update being promised by AT&T for the phones would enable them to communicate with the updated HSPA networks when the networks are ready, the analysts said.

Meanwhile, Redman said buyers need to be aware that carriers really never guarantee speeds with their services. "Carriers don't guarantee anything -- not speed or service -- and people have to realize that," he said.

According to Redman, carriers have been misleading about what a 4G speed really means -- although they've improved their advertising promises since the 3G days.

"Wireless was never intended to replace wireline, and customers can't have the same expectations," Redman said. "[Carriers] never offer guarantees and they always say that speeds will be 'up to' or 'around.'

"There are no guarantees in life and no guarantees in wireless service," he said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about wireless networking in Computerworld's Wireless Networking Topic Center.

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