EDGE Teeters on Brink
An enhancement to the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) standard that increases data throughput to a potential 384 kbit/s, EDGE uses the same basic network structure as existing 2G technologies. Some wags refer to EDGE as a 2.75G technology, because it is faster than existing 2.5G (GPRS) networks but slower than true 3G (W-CDMA) networks are expected to be. [Ed. note: When can we expect 2.875G networks?]
Despite increasing carrier interest in the virtues of interim EDGE technology in light of ongoing 3G rollout delays, a third of respondents claim the wireless standard has "no chance" of commercial success. Another third state that any future growth is dependent on continuing 3G problems.
The final third are more upbeat, defiant in their belief that today’s GSM networks are waaaaay too slow and that EDGE will provide "a stepping-stone to 3G."
Respondents are equally divided on which parties stand to benefit the most from deployment of the technology: carriers, vendors, or end users. Forty-two percent of readers believe EDGE will favor cash-strapped network vendors desperate to boost their depressed sales figures, while the same number expect carriers to reap the biggest rewards as they ramp up average revenue per user (ARPU) and encourage data usage. Less than a fifth (17 percent) reckon end users will find the technology of greatest benefit by taking advantage "of fancy new data services."
As for where exactly EDGE will be of value, majority opinion states that rural areas are likely to be the favored location for network deployment. Forty-two percent of respondents expect EDGE technology to act as a "fallback from 3G services in towns and cities," while a third tout "urban areas still awaiting true 3G coverage" as potential sites.
Vendors are also urged to help increase interest in the technology. A quarter of readers want to see "wider support from the vendor community," with the same number demanding the "availability of cheaper kit upgrades."
Unsurprisingly, a plurality of respondents (42 percent) expects North America to lead the way in EDGE rollout, with Europe following (25 percent).
Such opinion is in keeping with commercial deployments worldwide. Cingular Wireless became the first carrier in the U.S. to launch an EDGE network, in June (see Cingular EDGEs Out Rivals); and rival AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE) plans to have some EDGE markets up and running by the end of the year (see AT&T Firms Up 3G Plans). T-Mobile USA also has EDGE contracts with infrastructure vendors (see Nortel's $300M EDGE).
Meanwhile, across the pond, TeliaSonera AB (Nasdaq: TLSN) has a commercial EDGE network primed for activation in Helsinki by the end of this year (see Europe Gets an EDGE ). Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (Milan: TIM) has confirmed plans to launch services by summer next year, and Bouygues is also considering the launch of a €200 million network (see Bouygues Mulls EDGE Rollout).
EDGE is just one of the technologies up for a grilling in this month's poll, Fat Turkeys & Crystal Balls. Have your say on the year's real highs and lows, as well as what’s on the cards for 2004.
— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung