Taking a Closer Look at HSPA+: Is it really 4G?

weBoost | November 20, 2012


What is HSPA+? Is HSPA+ 4G or is it simply 3G on steroids? This is a question that’s being brought up a lot in the mobile universe lately because of the massive 4G hype saturating the market.

Experts say that the HSPA+ spectrum is really just a super fast 3G. Lets take a look at a couple of examples. First, in an article written by Wayne Rash for eWeek way back in 2010, T-Mobile used the claim that HSPA+ was 4G because it was noticeably faster than Sprint’s WiMax “4G”. Rash noted that “the International Telecommunications Union has already drafted the basic outlines of what constitutes 4G service—it must offer downloads of 100M bps for mobile devices and 1G bps for fixed or portable devices. It must also use TCP/IP as the networking protocol. Right now, nobody is even close to the speed requirements.” He pointed out that neither Sprint’s or T-Mobile’s technology was truly 4G according to true 4G standards. Rash did point out that an analyst firm did dub HSPA+ 4G but that the firm used the term “really fast” as the key criteria.



The second example of HSPA+ being super fast 3G, not 4G, comes to us from an article by Ankit Banerjee of Android Authority. Banerjee says: “HSPA+ is the tip of the mountain with 3G technology, and LTE is simply the foundation for a new mountain. LTE, also known as 4G, is the most advanced telecommunications technology currently available, and is one that defines a clear path toward future developments, making it the most attractive choice for carriers these days.”

After hearing the thoughts from the folks above it seems clear that HSPA+ is, at best, borderline 4G. However, taking a look at T-Mobile’s ads provides more confusion to the already confusing 4G conversations. In fact, T-Mobile says: “As the first nationwide 4G network, we have always had a major investment in speed.” The interesting thing about this is that T-Mobile will be offering LTE by the end of 2013. Yep, that’s right, the company is committed to getting LTE up and running in the next year or so. In fact, according to Mashable’s Peter Pachal, T-Mobile has purchased a big piece of LTE spectrum from Verizon.

Why does T-Mobile want its own LTE network? I suspect it has a little to do with September’s iPhone 5 announcement. As to which LTE the new iPhone will support, that’s a whole new can of worms we won’t discuss here.

In summary most experts agree HSPA+ is just really fast 3G. There are efforts moving forward in Europe and Australia to make HSPA+ a true 4G spectrum but here in North America the focus and hype is now on LTE due, in large part, to the iPhone 5 supporting LTE as it’s 4G choice.