AT&T to boost 3G upload speeds in weeks
NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc (T.N) plans to announce in coming weeks that it has upgraded its mobile network to let customers send photos or video from their phones to the Internet up to six times faster than before, a top mobile executive said on Monday.
Richard Burns, president of AT&T's wireless network services, also said in an interview that the company expects to carry out most of its planned 2007 high-speed wireless upgrades in October and November.
AT&T is boosting its network upload speeds to help meet growing bandwidth demand as customers increasingly send or upload media files directly from their phones to personal blogs and sites such as MySpace.com and YouTube.com.
"The ability to upload is becoming more important," Burns told Reuters.
While the vast majority of mobile Web surfers only wanted to download or retrieve information from the Web a few years ago, the entry of social networks and blogging into mainstream has made upload speeds more important.
"Everybody in the street is becoming a reporter so the desire to be able to upload is growing," he said. "That's become a much bigger part of consumer demand than it was just a few years ago."
Burns said the upgrade to AT&T's high-speed network would increase upload speeds to a range of 500 to 800 kilobits per second (kbps), from its current speed of about 120 kbps.
He did not say how much this upgrade would cost AT&T, which has spent $16 billion on its wireless network in the last three years, including merger-related network integration.
AT&T and rivals have been developing mobile data services such as Web surfing in an effort to keep growing amid declines in both phone-call prices and the number of people who do not already own cell phones.
But AT&T's upgrade so far is behind that of smaller rivals Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L), and Sprint Nextel Corp (S.N).
After Alcatel-Lucent ALU.PA, a key AT&T supplier, blamed North American wireless customers for a current-quarter revenue warning, some analysts said the warning could mean a slowdown for third-generation (3G) high-speed network upgrades at AT&T.
But Burns said AT&T had not changed its plans.
"There is more 3G capability turning up in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter, there always was," he said, adding that the bulk of upgrades would take place in October and November.
AT&T expects high-speed networks to cover 200 markets with 170 million people by year-end, according to Burns, who said the company would soon announce upgrade targets for 2008.
AT&T plans to keep expanding its 3G service next year but will not support 3G across its entire network by the end of 2008. Including its slower data network, AT&T's network covers markets with 280 million customers, he said.
"We roll 3G out based on what the data demand in the market will be," Burns said.
AT&T is the exclusive U.S. service provider for Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPhone. While reviewers applauded iPhone when it was launched in late June, they criticized AT&T because the phone only runs on its older, slower data network.
Burns said company surveys found that iPhone customers were happy with the network, which is based on a technology known as EDGE: "We're surveying them in large numbers week in and week out. They're telling us their EDGE experience is great."