T-Mobile rolls out faster wireless Internet in L.A. and 24 other cities
T-Mobile USA has upgraded its cell network in Los Angeles and two dozen other cities, and best of all, some customers will see speedier downloads with the smart phones they already own.
The fourth-largest wireless carrier announced the immediate expansion of its faster data network technology Tuesday night. T-Mobile beats Sprint Nextel, the front-runner in national 4G roll-out, to the L.A. market by covering the city and several surrounding counties.
Sprint, the No. 3 cellular provider, maintains that its program will take flight next in the City of Angels. Whenever that may be.
What's the hold-up? Implementing a fourth-generation network requires the construction of all-new infrastructure. That's a grand undertaking -- yes, even for the nation's biggest telecoms -- especially in an area as spread out as L.A. Verizon Wireless and AT&T are also building 4G towers.
T-Mobile was able to reach the finish line first here because its next-gen network isn't technically 4G. It's more like 3.5G. To achieve the improved speeds, the company hooks up thicker fiber to its existing cell towers instead of building new 4G sites.
Unarguably, four is better than three. But with 4G still in its infancy, T-Mobile's HSPA Plus is achieving speeds superior to Sprint's 4G in some areas.
That could change as 4G ripens. And separate 4G towers could mean more capacity for those customers who take the plunge with newer, high-end phones. HTC's Evo 4G is the first and only Sprint phone to take advantage of the faster network. For more on 4G, see "A look at what's ahead" from the Sunday edition of The Times.
"Every new technology generation takes about five years to mature," boasted Mark McDiarmid, T-Mobile's director of engineering and operations. HSPA Plus, he continued, "is really an enhancement to the technology we've been deploying for the last five years."
T-Mobile's top-of-the-line data plan conserves bandwidth by slackening transmissions when a customer exceeds 5 gigabytes in a month. (Less than 3% of customers break that barrier, according to Jeremy Korst, T-Mobile's director of mobile broadband.)
It's unclear how Verizon and AT&T will price their 4G data plans. The latter recently announced that new customers would have to choose from between 200 megabytes or 2 gigabytes a month for 3G access, and Verizon's tech chief has said offering unlimited Internet is a "big issue that has to change."
To see the full enhancements of T-Mobile's HSPA Plus, you'd need a cellphone designed to take advantage of the beefier data network. Currently, there aren't any, but McDiarmid said we'll see the first before the end of the year.
"Because it is a mature technology with a thriving ecosystem of devices," Korst said of the 3G-based standard, "we have a really good ability to go work with technology companies."
More than a dozen T-Mobile devices already in customers' hands will see some improvements, including HTC's MyTouch, MyTouch Slide and G1, Motorola's Cliq and Google's Nexus One. For a taste of the full wireless hotness, T-Mobile will begin selling its Web Connect Rocket USB peripheral, a wireless data card for computers, in most of the 25 cities where the faster network has been deployed.
In addition to "the entire Los Angeles area," McDiarmid said Seattle, Houston, Dallas, Pittsburgh and New Orleans were among those that received speed boosts Tuesday. They join the nine metropolitan areas where T-Mobile has already made improvements to its network, including New York, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.
-- Mark Milian
Photo: Already-available T-Mobile phones will see a speed enhancement from the HSPA Plus roll-out. Credit: T-Mobile