What about HSPA, Like AT&T 3G?

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Wednesday, 01 July 2009

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This website is obviously very EVDO-centric, but did you know there is another 3G mobile broadband technology? HSPA, which is used in the USA by AT&T and T-Mobile for their 3G service (AT&T refers to it simply as "3G" or occasionally "BroadbandConnect"), provides 3G mobile broadband access in the same manner as EVDO - completely wirelessly!

How does it work?

Like EVDO, HSPA works similarly to the way your cell phone operates in that it relies on signal from a wireless tower rather than a physical connection like a phone line or cable. An HSPA modem (often generically referred to as an "aircard" or "Laptop Connect Card" from AT&T) receives the signal and allows you to connect to the internet - it's as simple as that! HSPA modems come in several formats: USB dongle, ExpressCard, and PCMCIA card and you can use them either directly in your computer OR in a 3G router.

Of course, like your cell phone, the modem alone doesn't provide internet access - you must subscribe to the service from an HSPA provider. AT&T is the leading HSPA provider in the USA (T-Mobile's 3G network also uses HSPA, but their coverage area is so limited they are not a major player at this time) and they offer service for $60/month for 5GB of usage (overage charges apply after 5GB). For most people, 5GB is plenty of data for surfing the web, emailing, and the occassional YouTube video. For more information on what you can do with 5GB, read this article.

Who uses HSPA?

There are countless reasons to use mobile broadband (EVDO or HSPA) and we have helped customers get set up for a huge variety of applications! Below are just a few common ways people use mobile broadband:

  • Mobile applications: Cars, trucks, RV's, commercial service/fleet vehicles, shuttles, carpool/vanpool, transit (busses, trains, ferries), taxis/limos, private/commercial vessels
  • Portable uses: Mobile work teams, trade shows, conferences, conventions, vacations, commute access, emergency response setup
  • Fixed-location customers: Backup to cable/DSL/T-1, dial-up alternative, satellite alternative

Who offers HSPA?

AT&T is the leading HSPA provider in the USA. T-Mobile also uses HSPA for their 3G network, but their coverage is very limited.

Is there HSPA service at my home/office/destination?

AT&T offers 3G coverage mainly in metropolitan cities, but coverage is not nearly as widespread as Verizon's and Sprint's EVDO mobile broadband networks. This does not mean that AT&T is not a good solution for some people - if you only need mobile broadband in one location and have confirmed coverage there, or only travel to major metropolitan cities, AT&T 3G will work very well. To check coverage at your location you can enter your zip code on 3Gstore's coverage tool and compare Sprint's, Verizon's, and AT&T's coverage.

How fast is HSPA?

With a solid signal in a 3G-covered area, AT&T HSPA users can expect to see average download speeds of 700-1700kbps and approximately 500-1200kbps upload (HSPA has high "theoretical maximum speeds", but those estimates do not represent ACTUAL speeds users typically experience). This is comparable to EVDO Rev-A from Sprint and Verizon.

How does HSPA compare to other technologies?

Here is how AT&T 3G stacks up to other common internet technologies:

  • EVDO Rev A: 600Kbps - 1,400Kbps Down (with bursts to 2.0Mbps); 500Kbps-800Kbps Up (with bursts to 1.8Mbps)
  • EVDO Rev 0: 400 - 1000Kbps Down (with bursts to 2.0 Mbps); 50 - 100Kbps Up (with bursts to 144Kbps)
  • 1xRTT (Sprint & Verizon 2G, AKA "NationalAccess"): 50Kbps - 100Kbps with bursts up to 144kbps Down/Up
  • EDGE (AT&T 2G): 50Kbps - 100Kbps Down/Up
  • HSPA (AT&T 3G): 700-1700kbps Down; 500-1200kbps upload
  • DSL: Varies based on provider. Average appoximately 1500Kbps Down; 128Kbps Up
  • Cable: Varies based on provider. Average appoximately 1000-5000Kbps Down; 200-800Kbps Up
  • Satellite: 512Kbps - 1500Kbps Down; 128 - 256Kbps Up
  • Dial-Up: 56Kbps Down/Up


Edge (AT&T's 2G network)

AT&T's 2G network, Edge, has been available a lot longer than HSPA and is available just about anywhere cell phone coverage is for AT&T. Edge has a maximum of about 100K upload and download, but the typical speeds are 50K - 80K. When HSPA is not available, your HSPA modem or phone will automatically connect to Edge if available. While considerably slower than 3G HSPA, Edge is a huge boon to travelers - if you find yourself in a remote location with no HSPA you'll still be able to remain connected!

Create a Hot Spot and share your 3G connection with multiple computers

3G modems are made to plug directly into your computer's USB port or card slot, but what if you have two computers that need internet access? You do NOT need a separate device and second line of service - simply plug the modem into a 3G router and share the connection! 3G routers like the ones sold by 3Gstore work just like the average cable/dsl router you might have used in the past for a home/office DSL or cable-modem connection, but 3G routers have the unique ability to support cellular modems as their source of internet connectivity. With a router that supports your cellular device, you can plug your USB modem, ExpressCard, PCMCIA card, or even your tether-capable cell phone into the 3G router and instantly create your own WiFi network! You can read more about the various routers and which one might be right for you in this article.
What about antennas and amplifiers?

Signal strength can influence your modem's performance greatly. If you have a weak signal, an antenna and/or amplifier can improve your signal and thus your download and upload speeds. Most of the currently available 3G modems from AT&T feature ports where you can attach an external antenna and a wide variety are available, from the classic super-portable Booster Antenna to larger antennas that you mount to your home or office. If you need to provide a signal boost to multiple ceullular devices at once, this is possible as well with a wireless amplifier (AKA "repeater"). NOTE: T-Mobile's 3G network operates on a different frequency than AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon and therefore are NOT compatible with these antennas/amplifiers!

If you already have a mobile broadband device and you are experiencing weak signal, we advise reading the following article before selecting an antenna: Will an Antenna Help Me?
Can I use HSPA overseas?

Most of Europe uses GSM, so you CAN use your HSPA device overseas (HSPA is a GSM-based technology). Please note that it can be very expensive, and coverage is not available everywhere.

Need Help?

The Mobile Broadband Experts are available by phone, live chat, and email - contact us today!

Other Resources:

  • EVDO Forums is a community site open to ALL EVDO users. The EVDO Forums boards are filled with great questions, answers, tips, and tricks from everyone from industry experts to the average user - stop by and join the discussion!
  • 3Gstore is our retail site, where you can buy Verizon and Sprint modems and service, phones/PDAs, and accessories like routers and antennas for all 3G technologies (including AT&T's 3G).
  • EVDOmaps allows actual EVDO users to upload their performance results and information about their equipment.
  • EVDO Coverage Tool allows you to compare Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T data coverage side-by-side by zip code.
  • Will an Antenna Help Me? Find out BEFORE you buy!
  • Which Router is Best for Me? Compare the available routers to select the one that fits YOUR needs.
  • 3Gstore Glossary provides simple and easy-to-understand definitions for common 3G-related terms

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 December 2010 )
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