StarHub Leads in Singapore Dual Carrier Race

StarHub and its vendor partner Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. have edged ahead in the race to launch higher-speed mobile broadband networks in Singapore as the carriers in the island state step up their HSPA+ and Long Term Evolution (LTE) network rollout plans. (See Starhub Tests Dual-Carrier and SingTel, Ericsson Demo LTE.)

Both StarHub and rival operator Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY), which works with Sweden’s Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), are implementing dual-carrier frequency technology on their HSPA+ networks to enable peak downlink speeds of up to 42 Mbit/s. But StarHub has stolen a march on its rival, announcing today that it has already successfully completed trials of dual-carrier HSPA+, and now plans to start implementing the technology.

SingTel, meanwhile, says its 42-Mbit/s dual-carrier HSPA+ network will be available from the second half of this year.

Dual-carrier capabilities are hot at the moment as operators look for ways to boost their downstream bandwidth to data-hungry 3G customers. Dual-carrier technology, also known as multi-carrier, is based on the principle of bonding two carrier channels, which allows peak speeds on HSPA+ networks to be doubled from the current maximum level of 21 Mbit/s. This enables HSPA operators to squeeze more out of their networks by making better use of the existing capacity. (See MWC 2010: Dual-Carrier Duel.)

Both StarHub and SingTel are also moving ahead with trials of LTE, which promises yet faster speeds, up to a theoretical maximum of 340 Mbit/s. (See APAC Operators Commit to LTE.)

SingTel said today it had commenced LTE trials at its Singapore headquarters, the first of its planned regional LTE trials, while StarHub also said it's currently trialling LTE. SingTel is also planning LTE trials in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines in the first half of 2010.

But many carriers are turning to dual-carrier HSPA+ in the meantime, as it becomes increasingly urgent to find a way of dealing with growing data demands of mobile broadband users.

SingTel reported 1.41 million 3G users at the end of 2009. It said it added 107,000 mobile broadband customers in the fourth quarter of 2009 to reach a total 413,000, driven largely by higher demand for iPhones.

StarHub, meanwhile, said total post-paid mobile data traffic on its network grew to 7.4 petabytes in 2009 from 1.7 petabytes in 2008. The company had 1.9 million mobile users at the end of 2009, of which 939,000 were post-paid users.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona recently, Chris Pearson, the chairman of trade group 3G Americas LLC , said he expects the majority of HSPA network operators to launch HSPA+, although those that already have LTE spectrum may launch LTE first and then go back to HSPA+ to complement LTE coverage.

The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) also said in February that more than 80 HSPA operators worldwide have now committed to deploying HSPA+, and 41 networks in 26 countries have now entered commercial service. The association says it predicts there will be at least 100 HSPA+ networks in service around the world by the end of 2010, and that this figure will include dual-carrier systems with 42-Mbit/s peak downlink capability.

The potential broadband capabilities of HSPA+ networks don't end at 42 Mbit/s, though: Adding MIMO antenna technology to dual-carrier HSPA+ would boost speeds further. Indeed, Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), which announced its dual-carrier HSPA+ network at Mobile World Congress, said it plans to double its maximum speeds to 84 Mbit/s in 2011 through the implementation of MIMO technology. Telstra is working with network partners Ericsson, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), and Sierra Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: SWIR; Toronto: SW) to achieve this.

— Anne Morris, freelance editor, special to Light Reading

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