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AT&T, not ready for 3G, lobbies for 3G Palm Pre

It'll get slower before it gets better

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AT&T chief Randall Stephenson warned that US wireless networks aren't ready for a deluge of 3G traffic, while noting he'd like his company to start selling the 3G Palm Pre once Sprint's exclusive contract runs out.

"Prepared to handle" and "prepared to sell" are very different things, you see.

Speaking at the All Things Digital conference Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reports that Stephenson spent much of his time addressing complaints that AT&T was ill-equipped to handle network demands posed by the iPhone.

"I feel like we are closing the gap on this, but we're not there yet," he said. "We are about to see these issues manifest themselves industry-wide."

His comments on the Pre are believed to be the first indicating other carriers are eyeballing Palm's last-chance smartphone. Palm is set to launch the Pre on June 6 under an exclusive US supply deal. O2 has inked itself as the UK's sole distributor, with plans to punt the handset sometime before Christmas. It's not clear how long their exclusivity clauses will last.

So perhaps AT&T will have time enough to soup up the sluggish network it blames on 3G traffic. The American tele-conglom announced Wednesday it will begin upgrading its 3G network to use faster High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology this year. It expects to finish the job in 2011.

AT&T claims HSPA will boost theoretical maximum mobile download speeds from 3.6Mbps to 7.2Mbps. The company also said it will double the amount of frequency spectrum available for data traffic in most US metropolitan areas.

As far as consumer hardware is concerned, AT&T said it will introduce multiple HSPA 7.2-compatible laptop cards and smartphones beginning later this year. ®

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