Optical/IP Networks

WAN Speed Race

Major cellular carriers in the U.S., as well as upstarts like Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), are busily talking up download speeds once again for their newest network upgrades as data revenues become more vital for operators.

Typically, 3G networks in the U.S. offer users downloads of a megabit or less per second today. This is set to change radically over the next year or so, however, if they can live up to their promises.

One of the initial speed jumps is coming as CDMA operators Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless upgrade their evolution, data-only (EV-DO) networks to the faster Revision A (Rev A) version. Rev A will offer up to 1.4 Mbit/s downstream and 350 to 500 kbit/s upstream. The CDMA rivals have been upgrading existing CDMA markets since 2007. (See Sprint Expands 'Rev A' and Sprint Expands EV-DO in NY.)

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is offering similar speed jumps with its enhanced high-speed packet access (HSPA) upgrade to its network. The carrier will have around 1.4 mbit/s on the downlink and up to 800 Mbit/s on the uplink in some markets. (See Wireless Camps Prep Fresh 4G Battle and AT&T's 3G Overhaul.)

AT&T will have spent $20 billion on its 3G upgrades by the end of 2008. The carrier hopes to expand its 3G upgrade to 350 markets by the end of the year and to crank the data speeds available over the network:

"We'll have 20 Mbit/s or more next year, even before the LTE upgrade," an AT&T spokesman told Unstrung recently.

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) is already pushing the envelope on 3G speeds outside the U.S. The global GSM operator is offering three speeds on its HSPA network, with 7.2 Mbit/s in London and 3.6 Mbit/s available in the major cities in the U.K. and 1.8 Mbit/s in other regions. (See Vodafone's Blazin' 3G Upgrade.)

These speed upgrades appear -- at least on paper -- to challenge some of the download capabilities offered by the WiMax networks being promised by Sprint and Clearwire for their mobile WiMax deployement.

The operators are promising up to 6 Mbit/s on the download for early mobile WiMax launches. Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff says that the WiMax operator will have up to "15 megabits per second per user" as it deploys WiMax through 2010. (See Clearwire: We're Ready for Primetime.)

It is impossible to quantify any of these claims yet, however, since Sprint is due to launch its first WiMax site in September, and AT&T isn't planning to crank the headroom on HSPA 'til next year. Then Verizon and AT&T will move to long-term evolution technology (LTE) between 2010 and 2012. (See AT&T & Verizon to Use 700 MHz for 4G .)

Nonetheless, all these upgrades are due to do one thing: Get subscribers to use more data. Where users are today downloading text messages, email, and -- mostly -- basic music and video clips, faster 3G and WiMax is hoped to enable people to download more video and mobile TV and stream music more freely on their devices and get users spending more on data plans.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

Jeff_A 12/5/2012 | 3:38:08 PM
re: WAN Speed Race Hi,
Just 2 points:
1. I think the author meant 800 kbps - not 800 mbps - on the uplink in the ATT paragraph.

2. Top data rates are often quoted in the industry as characteristics of an air interface technology. In fact, these top rates only apply to a small percentage of the cell area - typically less than 10% where the highest order modulation on the RAN is applicable. To gain an appreciation of the RAN it is more helpful to think in terms average data rate per cell, e.g. that number would be around 3-4 Mbps for HSPA and 6-8 Mbps for HSPA+.

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