AT&T launches HSPA+ in San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Dallas and Boston

When AT&T announced the availability of the HTC Inspire last month I thought it was kinda funny that nobody picked up on the fact that AT&T was selling what it called a “4G smartphone” but wouldn’t tell anyone where the company’s “4G” HSPA+ service was up and running. Without any fanfare, press release or even a list, all that has apparently changed now since AT&T’s 4G promo page now lets you drill down to see very detailed network-coverage maps showing live HSPA+ services in several big cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Boston, among a few others.

AT&T 4G coverage map screenshot, showing a live market in San Francisco.

Though Ma Bell has been busy pumping out a lot of dull and repetitive press releases about pending network upgrades — the kind of blizzard of no-news facts that are routinely ignored — there is no press release announcing the list of active HSPA+ markets, just the map which an online chat rep says is being “updated daily.” (Of course this online chat rep also told us cheerily that “4G isn’t launching until June,” an error we mistook as a new probable arrival date for AT&T’s other 4G service, its LTE network.) Remember, by AT&T’s own definition an HSPA+ service area isn’t fully “4G” until “enhanced backhaul” is deployed. Apparently those fiber lines have now been connected, because the where is 4G FAQ page has now added a link directing you to the interactive map, which shows live markets ONLY when they are cursored over.

Anyway — to save you some time we cursored over the map and apparently HSPA+ services are now live in the following cities:

– San Francisco (including north to Santa Rosa)
– Chicago
– Dallas/Fort Worth
– Boston
– Providence, R.I.
– Houston
– Charlotte, N.C.
– Buffalo, N.Y.
– Puerto Rico
– Baltimore

Unlike AT&T’s 3G coverage maps, which painted the whole world a heavenly data-covered blue, the new 4G coverage maps seem to have a bit of honesty built in, perhaps not to the level of siting towers like Clearwire does but still showing some gaps, an incredible step forward in the transparency department for AT&T. Here’s a quick screen grab of the pop-up Dallas map, showing where you can and can’t get 4G HSPA+ service in the Big D:

AT&T 4G coverage map of Dallas, showing HSPA+ coverage in dark blue.

At CES, AT&T CTO John Donovan was puzzlingly coy about how and where AT&T would launch its 4G services, not committing to a list of cities like Verizon did with its LTE rollout. And up until today, the AT&T website has provided mainly confusing doubletalk, claiming that its network infrastructure was 4G-ready (a claim made easy because on the back end all that was required was a software upgrade) while also leaning heavily on the following disclaimer: “*4G speeds require a 4G device and are delivered when HSPA+ technology is combined with enhanced backhaul. 4G speeds available in limited areas with availability increasing with ongoing backhaul deployment.”

That asterisk-laden dodge was all we had to go on when we noticed that AT&T was selling 4G smartphones but not telling anyone where they could use them. Now, if the coverage map is to be believed, all that has changed and some special markets including Puerto Rico can now test for themselves whether AT&T’s HSPA+ network is really “4G” or not.

What this means for potential AT&T customers is that the new smartphones being launched by Ma Bell — including the Motorola Atrix, the HTC Inspire and the not-yet-released Samsung Infuse — should now be able to surf the web at speeds a bit higher than AT&T’s 3G network can produce, at least theoretically. Anyone out there in the wild getting HSPA+ 4G speeds from their new AT&T toys? Share your Speedtests in the comments below.

About Paul Kapustka

Paul Kapustka is a longtime journalist who has spent more than two decades covering the information technology business, Paul most recently has been focusing on mobility and how it has changed the computing and collaborative landscape. His newest project outside Mobile Enterprise 360 is a research and analysis operation called WiFi Journal. He is also editor in chief of Mobile Sports Report, which covers the intersection of mobile technology and sports business. Paul is also the founder of Sidecut Reports, a research firm that covered the emergence of 4G technology in the cellular marketplace.