Is HSPA+ the same as 4G?

The mobile communications industry is full of abbreviations and acronyms, so it is not surprising when terminologies get mixed up. Given that almost all digital cellular technologies and their enhancements since the 1990s are still active, it can be hard to keep up with the new terms. It can be even more challenging if you are from the US or a country where CDMA cellular technologies are live because that adds CDMA2000 and IS-95 to the mix. This post aims to clarify what HSPA+ is and how it is related to 4G.

The basics of digital cellular technologies

There have been two main paths for the evolution of digital mobile networks in Europe and America. The digital mobile networks started in the 1990s with GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and D-AMPS (Digital Advanced Mobile Phone System). Later D-AMPS was discontinued, and new technology, IS-95 (cdmaOne), emerged, which later became the leading cellular evolution path alongside the GSM networks. GSM is a second-generation technology that migrated to 3G through UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System). IS-95 (Interim Standard – 95), commercially known as cdmaOne, migrated to 3G through CDMA2000. Both UMTS and CDMA2000 migrated to 4G through the LTE technology.

HSPA+ is a 3G technology enhancement

HSPA+ is the enhanced version of HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access). HSPA is a 3G network enhancement that was introduced to add high-speed data to 3G UMTS networks. The UMTS network uses WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) for the air interface. It can offer higher capacity and data rates than its predecessors, GPRS and EDGE that are part of the GSM family. The data speeds with GPRS, EDGE and UMTS were not as high leading to the development of High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) that are collectively referred to as HSPA. HSPA+ stands for Evolved High-Speed Packet Access and it is a technology upgrade to HSPA which maximises the potential of 3G UMTS networks. It makes enhancements to spectral efficiency, peak data rates and latency. The resulting data rates (or data speed) can reach up to 42 Mbps in the downlink for downloads and 11.5 Mbps in the uplink for uploads.

4G is powred by the LTE technology

4G uses LTE technology (Long Term Evolution) to achieve its goals. With LTE, a user can get peak downlink speeds of up to 300 Mbps for downloads and peak uplink speeds of up to 75 Mbps for uploads. With LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro, the downlink speeds can move up to 1Gbps and 3Gbps respectively. These results represent the maximum achievable rates in ideal network conditions.

In real life, factors like distance between the user and the base station, the number of users being served by the same base station and obstacles like buildings etc., impact the achievable data rates. As a result, the data rates (Mbps) that you get in real-life may be considerably lower. LTE SIM cards can be used in smartphones as well as mobile broadband dongles and hotspot devices. If you have decent 4G coverage at home, it can provide you with an alternative to fixed-line broadband.


HSPA+ or Evolved High-Speed Packet Access is a 3G enhancement added to the 3G UMTS networks to improve the data speeds of the existing HSPA enhancement. 4G stands for the fourth generation of mobile networks, and it is enabled by a technology LTE (Long Term Evolution). HSPA+ can enable peak download speeds of up to 42 Mbps, and 4G with LTE-Advanced Pro can enable peak download speeds of up to 3 Gbps. However, the average HSPA+ and LTE-Advanced Pro are considerably lower than the peak speeds.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.

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