It used to be that pretty much every major commercial mobile operator had the same footprint and relatively same data speeds when it came to mobile broadband services. But, as operators roll out enhanced 3G and supposed 4G services, the space has become much more confusing.

T-Mobile USA yesterday said it rolled out HSPA+, an enhancement of its existing HSPA 3G network, in the Northeastern part of the U.S. Interestingly, the operator is promoting the service as providing 4G speeds, stealing the thunder of Verizon Wireless, which plans to roll out Long Term Evolution (LTE) in the fourth quarter and AT&T, which plans to roll out LTE in 2011.

T-Mobile said HSPA+, which is designed for peak data rates of 21 Mbps on the downlink with real world speeds likely clocking in at the 5 Mbps to 8 Mbps range, is now available in some pretty high-impact markets, including New York City; parts of New Jersey; areas of upstate New York; Connecticut; and Providence, R.I.; as well as in Memphis, Tenn., and Las Vegas. These markets join previous launches in Philadelphia and the Washington, D.C., area.

It's an interesting strategy for T-Mobile, which has long been considered a laggard in the 3G world. By the end of 2010, the operator plans to have HSPA+ available to 185 million potential subscribers. The operator is smart in deploying services in clusters for better coverage. And, unlike LTE and even WiMAX, HSPA+ devices will be plentiful, given the vast number of rollouts of HSPA+ in Europe and elsewhere.

AT&T has now decided smartly to roll out HSPA+, too, instead of skipping the technology. It plans to have the technology running for some 250 million potential subscribers by the end of 2010.

Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless will launch LTE in 25 to 30 markets to cover 100 million potential subscribers in the fourth quarter, while Sprint/Clearwire will have WiMAX coverage for 120 million potential subscribers.

The bottom line: Public safety and enterprises looking for mobile broadband solutions should not ignore offerings from the likes of T-Mobile and AT&T. Good coverage and a healthy ecosystem will be the defining factors of HSPA+ that will give this supposed interim technology a leg up.

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