AT&T is about to upgrade its cellphone network to 7.2 mega bits per second to support the tech in the new iPhone 3G S. But over in Portugal, where 7.2 mbps rates are already common, Vodafone's going for 21mbps.
Vodafone Portugal began the roll-out of the new service on Friday, tripling its former fastest mobile broadband rate of 7.2mbps up to a very impressive 21.6 mpbs—that's pretty much FIOS speeds, over the air. At the same time the upload rates have been boosted from 1.4mbps to 5.7 mbps. Though those are, of course, theoretical rates, it's certainly going to have a significant impact on how fast the average user downloads files and accesses the net while on the move. It's restricted to Lisbon only for now, with a roll-out across the country planned, and it costs just €49 ($69) per month, with the cost of the dongle at €129 ($182). Compare that to Verizon's fibre-optic based 25 mbps FIOS service for $69, or even its crazy-expensive global roaming broadband dongle to get a sense of perspective.
Vodafone's using the HSPA 64QAM technology, also known as HSPA+ to achieve this feat. The service has a theoretical maximum that's actually even higher than this—nearer 40bps—but clearly such a leap would require a significant infrastructure boost too.
Why isn't AT&T doing something similar? Apart from struggling with the infrastructure requirements to boost its system to 7.2mbps—and getting a lot of bad press after the iPhone 3G S's launch for not having advanced feature support ready yet—HSPA+ tech isn't likely to be favored in the U.S. Instead the next-gen 4G networks rolling out over the next couple of years will utilize LTE and WiMax solutions. While both of these are fast, national coverage is still far-off, and Gizmodo's field tests of Portland's existing WiMax service showed it topping out at 13mbps.
Meanwhile, back on the old continent, Portugal (yes—that old-fashioned place where the cork comes from) is already enjoying its upgraded network, and Finland's not far behind: Its 21mbps from provider DNA is due in August, with a speed-bump to 42mbps planned for next year.