By the end of next year, AT&T said, it expects to cover 25 of the nation's largest markets and extend the faster service to 90 percent of its 3G coverage area by the end of 2011. The cities to be upgraded this year are Chicago, Ill.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Dallas and Houston, Texas; Miami, Fla.; and Charlotte, N.C.
AT&T said the High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 upgrade is necessary before it moves to 4G. It plans to begin 4G trials next year and move to LTE 4G in 2011.
The theoretical peak speed for the HSPA technology is 7.2 Mbps, but the actual speed is likely to be lower, affected by factors such as network load, antenna location, and the device in use. The technology is said to have trouble maintaining a strong signal indoors.
Six new HSPA 7.2 phones will be introduced by the end of the year, AT&T said, along with two new laptop cards. The company said it is also developing LTE devices for its move to 4G in 2011.
AT&T set the cost of this year's work at $17 billion to $18 billion, including expanding its network capacity.
Competitor Verizon Wireless plans to go to 4G this year and deploy it next year.