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3G/HSPA

Voodoo Cranks Up 3G

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) has announced plans to launch HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) networks next year, a move that will increase the data transfer rates of its 3G services and potentially combat the threat of future mobile WiMax networks.

HSDPA is a packet-based data service evolved from, and backwards compatible with, earlier Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) air interface standards, which offer realistic data downlink transfer rates of around 300 to 400 kbit/s.

Used with existing W-CDMA networks, HSDPA-compliant handsets and base stations are intended to crank up transfer rates. HSDPA is a standardized feature in the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)’s Release 5 specification, introduced in August 2002 (see Release 5 to the 3G Rescue).

Vodafone claims that it has the largest W-CDMA network worldwide, with 50,000 base stations already deployed. Speaking at an analyst and investor day at its company headquarters in Newbury, England, this week, the carrier touted plans to upgrade this network to HSDPA within the next twelve months.

“In the last year and a half we have been testing our four suppliers in four of our networks, and we are increasingly confident about the qualities it can deliver,” said CTO Thomas Geitner. “This is why we think we will be ready for friendly user tests and pre-commercial tests in early 2006, then go to a full commercial launch by the middle of 2006.”

Geitner expects its initial HSDPA networks to offer “four times higher data speeds than the current version of W-CDMA.” A company spokesman adds that "most major markets" will have HSDPA coverage by mid-2006.

HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access) services, aimed at increasing the (duh!) uplink data rate, are planned for a “2007/2008” launch.

Vodafone is likely to be one of the first carriers worldwide to commercially launch HSDPA services. Japan’s NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) trialed HSDPA back in 2003, but a commercial service launch has been delayed until the second half of 2006 (see DoCoMo Delays HSDPA ).

European players O2 plc (NYSE/London: OOM) and T-Mobile International AG have also announced their intent to offer HSDPA services next year (see MMO2 Preps for HSDPA and T-Mobile Plans HSDPA Launch).

Such plans could be regarded as an attempt by wireless carriers to ward off the threat of future mobile WiMax services. Although the 802.16e standard has not yet been ratified, it is the subject of much hype surrounding its potential to compete with 3G services as a wireless broadband technology (see Mobile WiMax Faces Struggle and Readers Wait on Mobile WiMax).

Unsurprisingly, Vodafone’s Geitner plays down the attraction of mobile WiMax. “It will offer mobility, but it will be a few years before it is going to be available in the market. To us it is not an option because it is three or four years later than HSDPA, and it wouldn’t be incremental to our W-CDMA network to go ahead and put it in.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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