Tag Archives: HSPA

Carnival of the Mobilists #146

If it is Monday, it must be COTM! Scoot over to Carnival of the Mobilists at Andrew Grill’s London Calling to get the latest news and insights in the mobile industry. I found Chetan Sharma’s report on the 3G Americas Analyst Summit – especially his comments on LTE vis-a-vis HSPA interesting:

I think given the current economic climate, we might see the investment plans being delayed. Of course, with one city launch, some folks can claim LTE launch but pervasive availability will be pushed to 2013 and beyond. I think operators will try to milk HSPA technologies for as long as they can.

This business of “unlimited” data in its current incarnation is not sustainable. You have to be careful what you wish for. Mobile data usage is “here” thanks to smartphones and consumer awakening of what’s possible but I think the networks are not ready for a huge onslaught of data usage – esp. the kind of things we are used on the Internet like browsing, streaming, uploading, etc. – in large quantities. At some point, there will be enough users on a cell-tower that will start damaging the user experience. The incremental revenue doesn’t totally justify the investment required to support such a surge. So, what gives … we are likely to see more tiered data pricing and less emphasis on “unlimited” data.

I am not sure if there really is “unlimited data”. All mobile broadband plans (whether it is for smartphones or USB modems/dongles) come with monthly quotas beyond which Fair-Use-Policies are applied by the operators. So I am not sure what exactly Chetan is referring to here? In fact, as we have discussed multiple times in this blog, mobile operators are trying to go after fixed broadband providers and may be forced to raise the monthly quotas if they really want to compete. He does have a valid point on the huge onslaught of mobile data usage damaging the user experience.

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Telstra Announces HSPA+ Upgrade

Telstra announced that it is upgrading its HSPA network to HSPA+, which the company says will offer peak downlink speeds of 21Mbps by end of 2008. Looks like Telstra pipped the other operators to the post – Qualcomm had announced multiple HSPA+ trials early this year to be conducted with Hutchison 3G, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telstra.  

Telstra has always prided on itself being ahead of other carriers and the device ecosystem – it launched its Next G HSDPA network operating in the 850MHz band in record 10 months in 2006. Use of existing GSM bands, such as 850MHz and 900MHz, enables Telstra to expand broadband coverage much more cost-effectively than they can using higher frequencies. Radio signals travel much further at these frequencies than they do at 2100MHz, the other main band currently used for HSPA mobile broadband services, reducing the number of base stations required to cover any given area. 

Not satisified, in 2007, Telstra upgraded its network to support a peak rate of 14.4Mbps (another first) even though no devices were available that could download at those speeds! And now HSPA+. In fact at this year’s Mobile World Congress,  they even committed to 21Mbps before the end of the year and 42Mbps using HSPA+ in 2009. This is all well and good – but some key topics are never fully addressed in these announcements: end user terminals as well as backhaul and core upgrades.

User terminals: I was looking through Telstra’s website and I could not locate any device/user terminal that supported HSDPA at 14.4Mbps. I am not sure what the point of the upgrade is if there are no terminals that can leverage the network’s capabilities. In fact, Telstra seems to be mainly promoting their walled garden services (such as BigPond Mobile and Mobile FOXTEL) on their Next G network. Even for this HSPA+ press release, it is not clear what end device prototypes were used for the interoperability testing – the only piece of available information is that Qualcomm’s MDM8200 is the chipset in Ericsson’s HSPA+ infrastructure solution. 

Backhaul and core upgrades: The press release has a reference to “planned Ethernet backhaul” – no additional information. There was also a pithy press release in June about Telstra activating 3G Direct Tunnel in its core network. In Direct Tunnel, the bearer traffic flows from RNC directly to the GGSN, bypassing the SGSN. Only the signaling traffic is processed by the SGSN. This requires a software upgrade of all the 3 elements – RNC, SGSN and GGSN and the benefits are not entirely clear since it is still quite aways from the flat IP architecture.

Atleast, Telstra’s shiny network boasting the highest coverage (close to 99%) is allowing it to charge premium prices. Telstra’s 1GB plan for mobile broadband costs almost three times as much as Optus’ comparable plan. According to Forrester Research,  Next G mobile broadband service is one of a few that Telstra will not consider discounting – even for its largest customers. Surprisingly, it does not seem to have affected its HSPA market share. Telstra had 3.525 million HSPA subs at the end of 2Q 2008, representing a market share of ~88 percent. With the other operators increasing their coverage and driving prices down aggressively, this space should be interesting to watch.

Update: Sierra Wireless announced it is working with Australia’s Telstra, Qualcomm and Ericsson to deliver the first 21Mbps HSPA+ devices. Sierra said shipments for customer trials are expected to begin in the coming months with a commercial launch to follow. If enough vendors announce support for HSPA+ in the near term, it could spell trouble for WIMAX.

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LTE – Loooong Term Evolution?

LTE (the GSMA-adopted roadmap to 4G for GSM/UMTS carriers) has been getting a lot of attention of late. Verizon Wireless plans to begin network deployment in 2009 (using their newly acquired 700MHz spectrum) with full network deployment in 2010 and beyond. AT&T has also announced LTE rollout plans in 2012. Vodafone is also making the obligatory statements about rollout plans in 2011-2012 time frame – its ex-CEO, Arun Sarin has made snarky comments about Verizon needing LTE more than Vodafone owing to the inability of EV-DO to scale up to near-4G speeds like HSPA.

With the possible exception of Verizon, how real are these LTE rollout plans especially given the current financial turmoil? My bet is that 3G operators will look to squeeze the last ounce of return by upgrading their 3G/HSPA networks to HSPA+ (also called Evolved-HSPA or Advanced HSPA) long before they consider LTE. In fact, Japan’s Softbank Mobile has already chosen HSPA+ over LTE because of cost and backward compatibility. The reasons are as follows:

  • No marked difference in spectral efficiency – LTE proponents talk about 144Mbps Downlink (DL) and 50+Mbps Uplink (UL) speeds. But realization of these speeds require available spectrum in excess of 20 Mhz. Now probably is not a good time to be buying spectrum. As the chart shows (courtesy: Qualcomm), spectral efficiency of HSPA+ (when MIMO is included) is close to that of LTE when you consider 5Mhz spectrum.

  • Significant less Investment in Infrastructure – It is much easier and less expensive to upgrade HSPA to HSPA+ given that LTE is based on OFDM – a completely new modulation scheme while HSPA+ is still based on W-CDMA. LTE needs a completely new set of radio access and core infrastructure components – not only are the radio access algorithms different, the signaling and control protocols from the access to the core are also significantly different.
  • Backward compatibility – It is simpler for a HSPA+ subscriber to gracefully handover to a HSPA network – the connectivity between RNC and the core (SGSN and GGSN) remains as before. Significant complexity exists for handover to be implemented between 4G/LTE and HSPA+ networks.
  • Handset and terminal availability – Availability of LTE handsets may be less of an issue – clearly, the initial application for both HSPA+ as well as LTE is in mobile broadband (with USB dongles). It is reasonable to expect that HSPA+ dongles will be cheaper than those supporting LTE – given that a new semiconductor ecosystem needs to emerge that supports LTE.

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Puzzled by Cox!

I have to admit that I am slightly puzzled by Cox’s decision to go the CDMA route for their wireless network in the 700MHz band. Apparently Huawei beat out both Alcatel-Lucent and Nortel to win the business. Cox spent more than US$304 million on 22 licenses during the 700MHz-spectrum auction that wrapped up in March. It is also part of the SpectrumCo consortium, which also includes cable operators Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks and holds nearly US$2.4 billion worth of AWS spectrum.

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Deeper Dive into Mobile Broadband Growth in Austria

Austria shows that mobile broadband can be a significant threat to the old DSL-fixed line business. As shown in the Figure, the last three quarters for Mobilkom Austria have witnessed mobile broadband subscriptions exceed DSL subscriptions, thanks to a significant uptake in datacards / USB dongles and internet-enabled smart phones. The main driver for this increased mobile broadband usage is the emergence of new platforms as well as tariff structures that are becoming more attractive than fixed DSL offers. Continue reading

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HSPA subscriber numbers – Reality Overtakes Hype

The GSMA, the global trade group for the mobile industry, releases a quarterly report on the growth (or lack of growth) of GSM, GPRS/EDGE, W-CDMA and HSPA subscribers, terminals and operators. In the latest report (August 2008), it announced that the number of worldwide subscribers using Mobile Broadband (HSPA) networks has topped the 50 million mark from 11 million one year ago. This indicates that global uptake of HSPA technology among consumers and businesses is accelerating, indicating continued traffic growth for high-speed mobile networks worldwide. Wireless Intelligence expects the number of HSPA connections to be growing by 4 million per month by the end of 2008. The surprise here is that in its report released earlier, the number of HSPA subscribers were estimated to be around 56 million by end of 2008 (See accompanying figure). A rare occasion when reality has definitely overtaken hype! We should not be surprised if the real number is close to 75 million by end-2008 given current subscriber growth rates.

In October 2007, there were roughly 403 HSPA devices (a mixture of mobile phones, dongles, routers and notebooks) launched by 80 suppliers. That number has almost doubled to 742 HSPA-enabled devices available from 117 manufacturers. Furthermore, in February 2008, there were 174 commercial HSPA operators and that number has grown to 191 in the latest survey. The most widely-deployed peak data speeds over HSPA are currently between 3.6Mbps and 7.2Mbps. This translates to an end user speed of more than 1Mbps, comparable to many of today’s fixed line broadband services.

There is a running counter of Mobile Broadband connections around the world on the GSMA’s dedicated website: hspa.gsmworld.com.

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