Friday, April 01, 2011

AT&T to do major overhaul to Charlotte-area wireless network

Are you an AT&T customer in the Charlotte area? Your wireless service is about to get better.

AT&T officials held a news conference today to announce it was upgrading 178 sites around town to allow it deploy its HSPA+ cell signals, which the company says will be up to four times as fast as its current 3G network.

The upgraded set-up in Charlotte won't technically be a 4G network as HSPA+ is a variant of the current 3G used today, albeit a faster one.

AT&T also plans to install about 24 new sites around town to handle load and reliability.

Sprint and Verizon already have true 4G networks up in town and T-Mobile has its own version of HSPA+ up and running. T-Mobile advertises its service as 4G.

AT&T has a bid in to buy T-Mobile and plans to use T-Mobile's towers to improve signal quality and speed nationwide.

According to colleague Eric Frazier's report, AT&T officials said the upgrades will be just part of several improvements for this region. Also coming:

Replacing more than 400 antennas at more than 96 cell sites across Charlotte and along major highways to improve voice quality and reduce dropped calls -- a major source of irritation for many customers.

Upgrade wireless capacity at more than 259 cell towers across the area.

Install nearly 23 additional cells around the city.

Install smaller sites, inconspicuous cell sites called Distributed Antenna Systems at multiple sites to improve coverage during events. At least one of the sites is already in place on a light pole at McDowell and Third streets.

More from Frazier's piece:

Mayor Anthony Foxx said the upgrades couldn't have come at a better time, telling AT&T officials at the press conference that "about 35,000 of your best friends" will be descending on Charlotte for next year's Democratic National Convention, smartphones in hand.

Alison Hall, an AT&T vice president for consumer markets in the Carolinas, called Charlotte one of the company's most important cities as it strives to stay on the leading edge of the fast-moving wireless marketplace.

"We're going full bore, not just for the DNC, but that gives us extra momentum," she said.

AT&T officials said the "4G" service is available now in parts of Charlotte, and customers who buy the 4G Atrix or Inspire phones can receive 4G speeds when in range of an upgraded tower. Officials said they expect to have full 4G coverage in Charlotte by year's end.

The 4G speeds will initially come via an HSPA+ network, similar to signals T-Mobile uses for its 4G network. Some analysts have said those networks, while faster than 3G, aren't technically 4G.

AT&T officials said they will deploy LTE signals in Charlotte by the end of 2013. LTE is more broadly accepted as a fourth-generation technology.

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