New iPhones have AT&T running panicked towards 4G

Yes, I know, the new iPhone is coming, all signs point to yes -- they're running out of stocks of the last version, new geolocation features, probably no homebrewed Apple processors yet, blah blah blah. For me, this story is not in the long run terribly interesting -- was there ever any doubt that there would be a new iPhone, released about a year after the old one? What's interesting to me is what seems to be happening behind the scenes at AT&T to prepare for the onslaught.

Yes, I'm still obsessed with the creaking state of AT&T's network infrastructure. If, as many predict, an iPhone version with more or less the current model's capabilities, but at a $99 price point, goes on sale next week -- to say nothing of the even more media-heavy features rumored for whatever third-generation phone we're rumored to get (e.g., video, buying movies over the air) -- that network could find itself getting slammed all over again.

Thus, it's no surprise is working feverishly on its own network. The company taking a two-pronged approach, boosting its existing 3G HSPA network to 7.2 Mbps, and preparing to move to fourth-generation LTE tech. All the technologies are supposedly backwards compatible, though I'm not entirely clear on what that will mean for holders of existing handsets (presumably it means that if nothing else they won't just stop working).

Of course, this sort of thing doesn't happen overnight, and the move to 7.2 HSPA won't be complete until 2011 and to LTE until 2012; thus, things may be rocky in the wake of new, even-more-data-hungry iPhone apps this year and the next, though I imagine that folks in big cities will get improved service first. But it's worth noting that Verizon will have LTE networks available as soon as 2010 -- and if there are LTE-compatible iPhones out there, that means that people can move their phones across networks, just as some folks now have ported their phones to T-Mobile. Hopefully that will light a fire under AT&T when it comes to network quality.

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