Home Local News Claro, AT&T roll out 4G service for most of PR
Issued : Thursday, February 17, 2011 12:05 PM
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Claro, AT&T roll out 4G service for most of PR

By : JOSÉ ALVARADO VEGA

AT&T and Claro, the two largest telecommunications companies in Puerto Rico, announced this week that they have deployed fourth-generation (4G)-equivalent mobile-broadband service throughout most of the island.

Both carriers are actually offering a beefed-up third-generation (3G) service by boosting their networks from HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) to HSPA-plus technology, which has download speeds of up to 21 megabits per second, up from the current average of between 3.5 and 5 megabits per second.

This is also the case for T-Mobile, which was the first to provide 4G service on the island in October with limited coverage.

The International Telecommunications Union, the agency that develops and regulates telecommunications standards, defines 4G mobile wireless broadband technology as being capable of at least 100 megabits per second.

PRT/Claro Puerto Rico President Enrique Ortiz de Montellano said Wednesday that the company finished boosting its network to HSPA-plus in December. The $100-million, six-month project involved upgrading of 417 cell sites in its existing telecommunications tower network. A cell site refers to a site where antennas and electronic communications equipment are placed on a radio mast or tower to create a cell in a cellular network.

He said Claro’s 4G service is currently available in 80% of Puerto Rico, including Vieques. He added that plans call for such coverage to reach 95% by year’s end.

He said that the new service will triple the carrier’s top mobile network speed from the current 7.2 megabits per second to 21 megabits. He said the daily average is between 1.5 megabits to 5 megabits. He acknowledged that reaching top speeds will depend on consumer demand throughout a given day.

The $100 million invested in the 4G upgrading was included in the $240 million earmarked by the company in 2010 to improve all four of its telecommunications services — landline and mobile telephony, Internet and television, Ortiz de Montellano said. The company will invest another $240 million this year to enhance the system, including the expansion of fiber-optic lines that can transmit broadband service.

Claro will make investments in system upgrades adding up to a $1 billion by 2012 to meet requirements made by the FCC for the purchase of PRT by América Móvil in 2007, he said.

“We are inaugurating a new highway for our clients so they can use the latest smartphone and tablet technology on it,” Ortiz de Montellano said during a press conference at a Condado restaurant. “We are still working on the backhaul to cover the few remaining areas we have yet to reach.”

He also announced that all four services will be marketed strictly under the Claro brandname, which he said will be used for the “mass market,” while Puerto Rico Telephone will continue as the corporate name and will be used to market products to business and government clients.

Facing a high volume of data transmission by smartphone and tablet users, carriers are upgrading their networks to 4G and offering appropriate devices to maximize its use, Ortiz de Montellano said. Claro’s 4G service is powering four smartphones it’s offering to potential customers: Nokia E72 and N8, Nokia E5 and Nokia 6700. He said that the company will soon offer its Internet customers with the “powerful” 4G Huawei modem, model E367.

He did not rule out “the possibility” of including the new iPhone 4, scheduled to come out in the summer, in its product line-up. He said that with a 4G network, the company will likely introduce more sophisticated devices during the year, adding that even the iPad tablet computer, marketed by the competition, can now be connected to Claro, which currently offers the Samsung Galaxy tablet.

Such lines will serve not only as a highway for data but also for television broadcasts, he said. After successfully fighting off court challenges from competitor Onelink, Claro has resubmitted its application to the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board (TRB) to be the first on the island to provide Internet protocol TV, or IPTV. With IPTV service, he said. It has been two years since the carrier made its initial permits filing.

“We are confident that we will get a license to provide this service throughout Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra,” he told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. “This is will be a profitable business. It is a technology with much capacity, and the TV images are superior.”

AT&T getting in on the 4G action

Meanwhile, AT&T announced this week it was rolling out 4G wireless broadband service, saying it will eventually cover 98.5% of the island, including Culebra and Vieques.

José Juan Dávila, vice president and general manager of AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, said AT&T was still in the process of upgrading its network.

“We are expanding our backhaul connections with fiber optic cables instead of with microwave systems to obtain higher broadband speeds,” he told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. “We could theoretically reach speeds of 21 megabits per second, depending on the time of day and customer use.”

Dávila declined to say what the current reach of equivalent-4G service, but noted that 4G-equivalent speeds will be available in areas covered by AT&T cell sites connected to ethernet service. He said upgrades are being done to its network of 500 telecommunications towers throughout the island as well as at cell sites on top of buildings.

AT&T Marketing Director Melissa Burgos said the company is upgrading from an already speedy HSPA 7.2 to a faster HSPA-plus.

“The competition is abruptly upgrading from much lower speeds, so that a customer running into a blind spot could see their service suddenly going from 4G to 2G,” she said. “Our technology has been evolving gradually.”

Dávila could not provide the cost of the upgrade, but said the company had invested $225 million in the past three years to improve the system. He said, moreover, that the company plans later this year to be the first on the island to deploy newer Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, which promises faster speeds for mobile wireless users and lower costs and enhanced capacity for network providers. He said LTE technology will provide speeds of up to 40 megabits per second. “The quality of video will be mjuch better with LTE,” he said.

AT&T’s former Centennial clients will receive 4G service once they have migrated from network, he said. AT&T, which has more than 2 million subscribers, purchased more than 400,000 wireless lines that belonged to Centennial, including consumer and business lines.

The carrier is adding new devices that can run on the 4G highway, including the Motorola Atrix Android 2.2 smartphone, which was Dávila called the “most powerful smartphone on the planet,” and which “gives life to laptops.” Another 4 g device is the HTC Inspire LCD smartphone, which also runs on Android 2.2 and is the first to deliver HTC Sense platform and cloud services, including pinpointing lost phones on a map. He said that other devices to be offered in the local market later this year include the Samsung Infuse, the thinnest Android device, and two AT&T 4G tablets , including its first LTE tablet.

Upgrade work includes installing and optimizing about 800 antennas at approximately 400 cell sites throughout the island to enhance voice quality, reduce dropped calls and deliver more efficient, consistent mobile broadband speeds, Dávila said. An additional 40 cell sites are being installed, he said.

Distributed antenna systems are also being set up in high-traffic areas and facilities such as office buildings and sporting and event venues, to provide enhanced wireless coverage to customers in indoor or outdoor spaces where geographical limitations might otherwise prevent an optimal wireless experience, he said.

“The nation’s fastest mobile broadband network is getting even faster with 4G,” said Dávila, noting that fiber-optic connections being deployed between existing cell sites will be linked to AT&Ts nationwide network to enable 4G speeds.

In October, T-Mobile became the first wireless carrier on the island to offer 4G service, but its coverage is limited to parts of the San Juan metro area and some of the island’s largest towns, with a reach of no more than 28% of the island. AT&T is also expected to finally inaugurate 4G service this month after fixing system glitches that hobbled its launching last year.

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