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T-Mobile Doubles 3G Speed, AT&T Follows Suit

T-Mobile USA has completed a nationwide deployment of HSPA 7.2, a faster 3G technology that will double the speed of its high-speed data and voice system across the country and set the stage for an eventual tripling of speed.

The first carrier to embrace Google's Android platform, T-Mobile USA is the fourth-largest mobile carrier in the U.S., with 33.9 million customers. After launching an Android phone from HTC, T-Mobile now offers a multitude of handset makers, including Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) itself, which is offering the new Nexus One phone exclusively on T-Mobile in the U.S. for now.

This speed upgrade comes just in time for a likely influx of new customers, including Nexus One buyers. HSPA 7.2, or High-Speed Packet Access, has a theoretical top speed of 7.2 megabits per second. The old 3G network maxed out at 3.6 mbits/sec. The Nexus One will support HSPA 7.2 speeds.

The news wasn't exactly formally announced. T-Mobile users were expecting it, since the company had promised to complete the rollout by the end of 2009, and were conducting speed tests. Eventually, all T-Mobile customers saw big improvements in recent days.

Faster speeds from AT&T

Not to be outdone, AT&T today announced that it has completed implementation of a series of software upgrades to improve its backhaul capabilities and prepare for HSPA 7.2.

The software should provide for a more consistent wireless data experience for all customers. Six cities – Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami – are currently testing the new network. AT&T expects to have the bulk of its network running 7.2Mbps HSPA by the end of 2010.

AT&T has no plans for HSPA+, which can hit 21mbps, but T-Mobile does. It plans to roll out HSPA+ beginning this year and offer it nationwide by mid-year. HSPA+ is currently being tested in Philadelphia.

The future for all networks, though, is Long-Term Evolution (LTE), also known as 4G. It can hit speeds of as much as 100mbps downstream. Verizon Wireless plans to deploy it this year while AT&T and T-Mobile have said they will begin to deploy LTE in 2011 while maintaining their 3G networks.