Optical/IP Networks

Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service

Thought mobile broadband was a thing of the future? Wrong!

With endless speculation, on these pages and elsewhere, about wireless mesh, municipal WiFi, and Mobile WiMax, you may not have noticed that mobile broadband is already here -- in the shape of HSPA a.k.a. 3G Mobile Broadband.

Unstrung had the chance (and made the effort) in the summer and autumn of 2006 to road test Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)’s newly launched 3G Broadband network in the UK. The conclusion: This is killer technology.

And make no mistake, this is a big deal for the wireless industry. HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) delivers 3G as it should've been when the first networks were launched back in 2003. Which, in a nutshell, means faster and lower latency connections for end-users, and the ability for operators to support more users per sector/cell, and therefore to improve the economics of packet data over 3G.

As the first network to launch HSPA in the U.K. in July 2006 (and one of the first globally) Vodafone initially focused on the business market, where it is the leading mobile services provider by revenue, with the launch of a data card from Option NV (Euronext: OPTI; Nasdaq Europe: OPIN).

The marketing pitch is as straight-forward as it gets, with Vodafone selling a mobile broadband Internet access service, dubbed "3G Broadband." The initial rollout was focused on London and other major British cities, with coverage across Vodafone U.K.’s entire 3G footprint scheduled for the end of 2006.

And there’s no doubt, Vodafone sees coverage as a key selling point. Check this advertising seen around London -- compelling, no?

Like any other data card service, it’s simple enough to install, configure, and use. And at first glance there’s not a huge amount that’s new. Take a PC Card, plug it into a laptop, and connect to the Internet. No magic there.

It’s after a period of sustained and regular use, that the superiority of 3G Broadband really comes through.

In everyday usage situations (in meetings, at conferences, and the like) the test unit typically gave around 1-Mbit/s download speeds while stationary. Even in locations with poor signal strength (the 9th floor meeting rooms at Unstrung’s London office, for example) the service was able to stream 700-Kbit/s video without a hitch.

Latency is also noticeably better. Reponse times to www.google.com are in the range of 100ms to 200ms, which is slower than the 40ms from, say, a typical DSL line, but just about good enough for VOIP-to-landline calls using services such as Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO)’s Phone Out.

More to the point for real on-the-move business users, this lower latency enables use of transactional line-of-business applications such as Siebel Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: SEBL) or SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP). This means users can update and pull-down information in corporate databases in real-time without having to rely on disconnected operation and time-delayed synchronization.

Another practical benefit of HSPA is the faster upload speed of around 300 Kbit/s, versus 64 Kbit/s on previous versions of 3G. This makes HSPA a must for anybody that needs to send large attachments, such as PowerPoint, images, or media files.

The main downside to the service -- isn’t related to the service at all. It’s a hardware issue. Put simply, having a PC card sticking out the side of your machine is messy and awkward. Add to that, an intensely annoying bright blue light that flashes when the device is connected, and the case for integrated 3G/HSPA cards makes itself.

The bottom line is this is a great service that actually works well-enough for daily use. Coverage is good, it’s reasonably fast and consistent, and latency is manageable. Any organization looking to connect notebook users to corporate resources, or simply the Internet, should investigate the potential of HSPA. Oh, just make sure you get the unlimited data plan.

The Vodafone data card with HSPA service was loaned to Unstrung free of charge for a limited period. Real pricing is here.

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 3:34:06 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service ThereGs a good article in the Ericsson Review which gives a more technical account of how real-world HSDPA networks perform.

See Ericsson Review (No. 3, 2006): HSDPA performance and evolution

The performance I experienced was lower than claimed in the article, especially latency (which Ericsson pegs at just 70ms). But it was in the same ball park.

Anyone else have experience with HSDPA on a daily basis?

IGd also be curious to know how well SprintGs new Rev A service works in San Diego
HallerRalf 12/5/2012 | 3:34:04 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service Ok then enjoy as long as you are the only one using it, and please report back when speed goes down to nearly nothing when more folks sign on...

An objective article would have at least noted that!
That's why I was inclined to comment.
HallerRalf 12/5/2012 | 3:34:04 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service I think that some wireless system vendor PR work has been mixed up here with this arcticle or how come that there is no mention of how this "high-speed" service would look like when lots of people are using it?
Also in the Ericsson article that was mentioend in the previous comment, nothing on that topic either.
It's like: Closing LA and London for traffic then I am also super fast, but unfortunately that is not a very realistic scenario.
The other part that is missing is the cost of building this. How much has been paid for spectrum and the 3G and HSDPA networks?
Just minor details...
IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 3:34:04 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service Well for sure, if this stuff doesn't work, we'll report it.

Ironically, the situation you decribe "speed goes down to nearly nothing when more folks sign on" would be a nice problem to have. It would mean people are using the service.
IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 3:34:04 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service If the service was poor, IGd have written that. But it wasnGt, it works.

Some of your points are good ones G but it wasnGt the aim of this article to align spectrum pricing, network cost and capacity limits, with how the service actually worked.

Note, I didnGt even address the price of the service.

You are trying to imply that 3G doesnGt have enough capacity G and we can easily imagine scenarios where that could be the case G but the fact is that, today, these networks are vastly underused.

The only PR involvement was to loan the card.
AllKindsOfThings 12/5/2012 | 3:33:34 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service I am wondering if this was a test that was limited to 1 MBit HSDPA or if there is no faster Service yet?

I am asking becasue T-Mobile had just launched 3.6 MBit/Sec HSDPA in Germany afaik - did Voda indicate when they'll run that upgrade?

Three obviously still needs a while to get there.

All the best !
IPobserver 12/5/2012 | 3:33:31 AM
re: Vodafone’s 3G Broadband Service As I understand it, the early services are restricted by the terminal chipset, which is limited to 1.8 Mbit/s modem rate.

I think Vodafone UK will offer handsets with 3.6 Mbit/s chipsets before year-end.

ItGll be interesting to see how well the 3.6 Mbit/s terminals actually work, since youGll need good channel conditions to get the higher speeds.

Btw, IGve also been GǣtestingGǥ the T-Mobile UK HSDPA service with the MDA Vario II (an HTC device). ItGs really impressive.
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