Look, AT&T: Windows Phone 7 owners have it hard enough right now as it is. Do you really need to pile on?
But let's rewind for a second; here's the backstory. AT&T-locked handsets (other than the iPhone 4, notably) have shown suspiciously slow upload speeds for some time, but the problem really started sticking out like a sore thumb on recent models that bear "4G" branding on account of their HSPA+ support -- namely, the HTC Inspire 4G and Motorola Atrix 4G. Why couldn't they even break a megabit on the uplink? We followed the story closely on Engadget, eventually hearing from a tipster that the company was requiring its branded phones to handshake 3GPP Release 5 with the network -- the last release to lack support for HSUPA. In other words, AT&T was (and still is) holding devices back and preventing them from uploading data at the full speeds they're capable of.
They've never really come clean on why they're doing this. If I had to guess, it's mainly out of an abundance of caution in protecting the performance of the network as technicians slowly beef up backhaul and enable HSPA+ around the country, which is a woefully wrongheaded approach that alienates customers... but it is an approach. For what it's worth, they've committed to updating some existing models to enable HSUPA once they've been tested -- and naturally, there'll be more models down the road that have it enabled out of the box -- but there's never been a straight, official answer on why they've been disabling it thus far.
That brings us to the occasion of the delayed Windows Phone 7 "NoDo" update for AT&T's Samsung Focus, which just started rolling out in the past few days.
Prior to the update, the Focus had been one of the few branded phones on the network that actually used HSUPA -- which was apparently a mistake, because the update disables it. No warning, no letter from AT&T to owners explaining that their phones are going to be crippled and slowed... just an apparent expectation that Focus owners won't figure out (or won't care) that they've been hoodwinked.
[Update: If you had manually enabled it prior to the update, the update turned it off again — but it was never using HSUPA by default. See the full update below.]
Now, even in light of the company line that these phones need to be handshaking Release 5 for some unknown reason, this is pretty inexcusable. How many HSUPA devices does it take to break an AT&T cell site? Punchline: more than just Focuses alone, that's for sure. If negative impact on the network were seriously a concern, anyway, they'd need to be looking at the massive installed base of iPhone 4s that are uploading HSUPA -- not the occasional Focus. Needless to say, there are dozens of iPhones that connect to any given AT&T tower for each Windows Phone 7 device.
Fortunately, there's a silver lining on this cloud: it turns out that re-enabling HSUPA on the Focus is pretty simple, and WPCentral lays it out. Interestingly, the fix also confirms that scoop we'd posted a while back on Engadget, too, which claimed that the problem revolved around 3GPP Releases: to get HSUPA pumping on the Focus, you need to literally change a setting from Release 5 to Release 6. That's it.
If there's one thing AT&T needs to learn here, it's that the hive mind of users, enthusiasts, and media will always root this sort of stuff out. And when they do, it's going to backfire. If your phones can support HSUPA, you've got to have it enabled.
[Thanks, Jiahui S.]
Update: AT&T reached out to us to say that the reports on wmpoweruser and WPCentral are not true — HSUPA was never enabled on the Focus — which makes it another device in the company's stable that's capable of it without having it turned on. Either way, good to see you can do it yourself.