Tag Archives: Optus

3G Routers – Will It Accelerate Fixed Broadband Replacement?

I have been commenting quite regularly in this blog about how mobile broadband (based on USB dongles and modems) is increasingly being used by mobile-only operators (those without fixed assets) to accelerate the replacement of fixed broadband, primarily in Europe. The spectacular growth in mobile broadband subscriptions is being driven by aggressive pricing from mobile operators, along with free laptop bundling offersbuilt-in 3G support for laptops and netbooks isn’t hurting either. One missing element in this puzzle has been a way for multiple members in a household or a small office/home office to share a mobile broadband connection in a simple plug-and-play fashion. Enter the consumer-friendly WiFi-over-3G Router! 3 UK is rolling out the nifty Huawei D100 router -  insert your dongle into the router and share your mobile broadband with WiFi-enabled devices such as PC, Mac or a laptop. The 3 store claimThere’s no need for a landline, because the Wireless Router does all the work” is a clear indication that they are going after fixed broadband. If most people are already making voice calls on their mobile phone, it is a small step for the consumer to wonder if he needs the landline at all! It remains to be seen how many consumers will be happy with a monthly usage plan under 15GB especially with the increased usage in online video. Surprisingly, the mobile broadband plan for the router does not include the 15GB monthly allowance plan (which is an option for the laptop plan) – for some strange reason, only the 5GB allowance is available. One would expect that people who buy into this 3G Router in order to share their mobile broadband would sign up for a plan with a higher monthly data allowance. Clearly, 3 is also looking for this product to create stickiness – 3′s compatibility statement indicates that the router has firmware to ensure that a modem from any other carrier does not work properly.

I am a little surprised that 3 UK is not offering a bundled voice + mobile broadband offering. Both (3) Sweden and (3) Austria have been selling Huawei’s 3WLAN Router E960/E970 for a while now – in addition to 4 Ethernet interfaces and WLAN support, this 3G Router also has a RJ11 interface, ideal for connecting the black phones. It is not clear if voice is transported as VoIP over 3G in this case. Several operators including Vodafone Egypt and Optus (Australia) are offering this product in their mobile broadband portfolio as well.

T-Mobile in UK announced a similar product called “Mobile Broadband Share Dock” earlier in the month, but unfortunately, it is still not available for purchase (unlike 3 UK). The concept is similar – plug in your old T-Mobile USB modem or a new one into the dock and share the mobile broadband amongst as many as three people (3 UK claims their product can support 4 end users). I am betting Vodafone and the other operators in UK will follow suit if this concept catches on.

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Filed under 3G Router, fixed broadband, mobile broadband

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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Filed under HSPA, mobile broadband