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AT&T (tries) to double iPhone 3G speeds

In some cities. For some users

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AT&T - Apple's US network of choice for the iPhone - will double the speed of its 3G service in six cities by the end of this year, and it plans to extend that service to 90 percent of its current 3G coverage area by the end of 2011.

In an announcement on Wednesday, AT&T said that it would deploy the upgraded service, HSPA 7.2, to Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas and Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; and Miami, Florida before the end of 2009.

The company claims that the roll-out will extend to 25 of largest US markets by the end of 2010.

HSPA 7.2, as its name implies, provides a theoretical maximum throughput of 7.2 megabits per second. How close to that performance a user of an HSPA 7.2-capable phone - such as the iPhone 3GS - depends, of course, on network saturation, antenna location, and other factors.

Unfortunately, HSPA 7.2 suffers from some of the same limitations of current HSPA 3G technology, not the least of which is its difficulty in receiving a strong signal when indoors.

In addition to providing at least the possibility of improved 3G service to those lucky enough to live in the areas to be covered, the HSPA 7.2 upgrade will include what AT&T describes as "substantial additional wireless backhaul," meaning an upgrade to the infrastructure that carries communications from mobile towers to AT&T's IP backbone.

This upgrade, according to AT&T, will be robust enough to support the additional throughput of 4G LTE, which Big Phone plans to begin testing next year for deployment in 2011.

AT&T has been under fire recently for its already-saturated existing 3G networks, especially in dense urban areas such as San Francisco and New York City. Perhaps the HSPA 7.2 upgrade, along with the backhaul upgrade, will give those phone users some relief.

And perhaps not. ®

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