Telstra Pushes HSPA Limits

Australian operator plans to launch evolved HSPA services by the end of this year, pumping up its 3G network speeds to 21 Mbit/s

Michelle Donegan, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

October 9, 2008

3 Min Read
Telstra Pushes HSPA Limits

Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) plans to launch an evolved high-speed packet access (HSPA) network in Australia by the end of this year, which would boost its 3G network speed to 21 Mbit/s on the downlink.

The Australian carrier already has one of the most advanced 3G networks in the world. In fact, the operator's achievements in mobile broadband has earned Telstra's CEO Sol Trujillo a finalist nomination for the Leading Lights award for Person of the Year. [Ed. note: Don't forget to vote.] (See The 2008 Leading Lights Finalists and Telstra CEO: Survival of the Bravest.)

By the end of this year, Telstra aims to ramp up the data speeds even higher with the commercial launch of evolved HSPA -- a.k.a HSPA+. And the operator will actually have devices available for the commercial launch. Unstrung has learned that Telstra will launch the HSPA+ network with USB sticks from Sierra Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: SWIR; Toronto: SW).

The operator just completed an interoperability test with network equipment from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s MDM8200 chipset that supports HSPA+ data cards, USB sticks, and embedded modules. Qualcomm claims this is the industry's first chipset to support evolved HSPA devices.

Based on those test results, Telstra says it's on track with its plans to launch the 3G network upgrade by the end of the year.

With these HSPA+ moves, Telstra, Ericsson, and Qualcomm are showing there's a lot of life yet to be squeezed out of 3G networks before the next-generation Long-Term Evolution (LTE) comes along. The network development and the device availability will also add to the many factors operators are weighing up as they decide when to make the leap to LTE. (See Vodafone Pumps Up HSPA and The Fastest 3G Yet.)

“At some point in the development of HSPA evolution and LTE, there’s a crossover point where the economics of doing LTE will become more attractive,” says Patrick Donegan, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, and author of the report, "3G Squeeze: GSM, LTE & the Future of Wideband CDMA."

“That point comes at different places for different operators. Telstra will be among those operators that go the furthest along the HSPA evolution roadmap,” states the analyst. (See 3G Faces Capex Squeeze.)

Telstra is Ericsson's lead customer for evolved HSPA, explains Donegan. "The latest releases are going into Australia first," he adds.

As leaders in WCDMA technologies, Ericsson and Qualcomm are keen on operators adopting the newest release of HSPA. “All 3GPP operators will jump ship from HSPA to LTE at some point," Donegan notes. "Ericsson and Qualcomm want to delay the shift to LTE for as long as they can. They want to squeeze the high-margin software upgrades out of HSPA for as long as they can."

Device dilemmas
Telstra's 3G network is currently capable of 14.4 Mbit/s on the downlink, but because there are no devices that support that speed, Australians don't get the full bandwidth.

"That's one of the problems for them," says Jeanette Fridberg, head of product marketing for radio networks at Ericsson. "Ericsson has been leading so fast that the terminal vendors haven't been in the race good enough. They have a couple of terminals that can manage 10 Mbit/s."

Qualcomm says it actually decided not to develop 14.4 Mbit/s chipsets and went straight on to develop the HSPA+ chips that support 20 Mbit/s and later releases with software upgrades that will support 28.8 Mbit/s.

"We're leapfrogging the 14.4 Mbit/s capability and going straight from 7.2 Mbit/s to 21 Mbit/s," says Vieri Vanghi, senior director of technical marketing with Qualcomm.

With Qualcomm's chipsets and with the USB stick from at least Sierra Wireless, Australians will apparently make a veritable quantum leap in mobile broadband download speeds from 10 Mbit/s to a potential 20 Mbit/s.

Of course, these speeds are peak rates only. The actual downlink speeds users experience will be slower, depending on distance from the cell site, network usage, and device capabilities.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry on both sides of the Pond for the past twenty years.

Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications, including Communications Week International, Total Telecom, Light Reading, Telecom Titans and more.

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