HSPA and HSPA+ for 3G Networks

3G networks are no longer the fastest available, but they are still in use by many people and most cellular service providers. High-Speed Packet Access is a standard for wireless network communication in the 3G family. The HSPA family of network protocols includes HSDPA and HSUPA. An enhanced version of HSPA called HSPA+ further evolved this standard.​


HSPA utilizes the High-Speed Downlink Packet Access protocol for download traffic. HSDPA supports theoretical maximum data rates between 1.8 Mbps and 14.4 Mbps (compared to the 384 Kbps maximum rate of original 3G). When introduced, it provided such a significant speed improvement over older ordinary 3G that HSDPA-based networks were referred to as 3.5G or Super-3G.

The HSDPA standard was ratified in 2002. It uses AM technology that dynamically adjusts transmissions according to the overall network load.


High-Speed Uplink Packet Access provides speed increases for mobile device data uploads on 3G networks similar to HSDPA for downloads. HSUPA supports data rates up to 5.7 Mbps. By design, HSUPA does not offer the same data rates as HSPDA, because providers provision a majority of their cell network capacity for downlinks to match the usage patterns of cellphone users.

HSUPA was introduced in 2004, after HSDPA. Networks that eventually supported both became known as HSPA networks.

HSPA and HSPA+ on 3G Networks

An enhanced version of HSPA called HSPA+ or Evolved HSPA was developed and has been deployed by many carriers to better support the huge growth of mobile broadband services. HSPA+ is the fastest 3G protocol, supporting data rates of 42, 84 and sometimes 168 Mbps for downloads and up to 22 Mbps for uploads.

When the technology was first introduced, users on some 3G networks reported issues with their mobile connections frequently switching between HSPA and older 3G modes. HSPA and HSPA+ network reliability is not an issue anymore. Except for occasional technical glitches, users of 3G networks do not need to specially configure their devices to use HSPA or HSPA+ when their provider supports it properly. As with other cellular protocols, the actual data rates a person can achieve on their phone with either HSPA or HSPA+ is much lower than the rated maximums defined in industry specs. Typical HSPA download rates on live networks are 10 Mbps or lower with HSPA+ and as low as 1 Mbps for HSPA.


The relatively high data rates of HSPA+ caused some in the industry to view it as a 4G technology. While HSPA+ does offer some of the same benefits from a user perspective, experts agree that the more advanced LTE technology clearly qualifies as 4G while HSPA+ does not. A key distinguishing factor on many networks is the noticeably lower network latency that LTE connections offer over HSPA+.

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