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Is HSPA+ the End of Flat-Rate?

4:25 PM -- Could High-Speed Packet Access Plus (HSPA+) be a spur for carriers in the US and beyond to step away from flat-rate pricing for data and start offering more tiered services?

Fabricio Martinez, Group SPM and director at network consultants Aircom International Ltd. , believes so. Suggesting that the extra bandwidth provided with a 21-Mbit/s 3G upgrade over the 3.6-Mbit/s top rates originally offered by the technology gives operators the headroom to start thinking about QoS-based layers for billing.

"Once you go to 21 you could probably say I have my one megabit, my two megabit, and my five megabit pipes… From a business perspective that’s going to be the window out of flat-rate," Martinez told LR Mobile at a meeting on Tuesday. You pay the most and you get priority over others on the network, he suggests.

Carriers in the US have been dancing around what to do about flat-rate pricing for data for awhile now. Data is the growth area in the wireless market, but it also puts a lot of pressure on operators' 3G networks.

"On some networks, 5 percent of the customers are generating 60 percent of the traffic," Martinez notes.

Martinez says Aircom has been talking with carriers about the prospect of introducing more tiered services on HSPA+ -- but he's not naming names. He simply says that his company has worked with all the big-name GSM operators in the USA and Europe.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has said it will start to deploy the 14.4-Mbit/s HSPA+ upgrade in the US this year, and T-Mobile US Inc. is already switching on markets with 21-Mbit/s now. Generally speaking, Martinez says that an HSPA+ software upgrade makes sense for GSM carriers even if they are planning on deploying LTE in the future, because it is a relatively easy and inexpensive way of getting more juice out of their standing assets.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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