HSDPA Gathers Steam
By Carlo Longino, Mon Dec 06 23:15:00 GMT 2004

mmO2 -- which hasn't launched 3G yet -- says it will be the first European carrier to roll out the HSDPA upgrade to WCDMA, following Cingular's US announcement last week.

High-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) is a boost to WCDMA, much like EDGE ups the capacity and speed of GPRS. HSDPA doubles air interface capacity and gives a five-fold increase in downlink speeds, supporting maximum top speeds of 10Mbps, and real-world speeds around those initially promised by 3G -- 2 to 3 Mbps. Not surprisingly, NTT DoCoMo was the first carrier to announce it would deploy the technology, saying it would launch in 2005 in what's seen as a largely reactive move to one-up KDDI's faster CDMA2000 EV-DO network.

Last week, top US operator Cingular announced it would launch HSDPA in a number of metropolitan areas alongside a UMTS deployment nationwide over the next two years with network equipment from Ericsson, Lucent and Siemens. Like EDGE upgrades to many GPRS base stations, the Lucent UMTS base stations can be upgraded to HSDPA with a software upgrade. Cingular says its top handset providers have committed to delivering 3G handsets in the fourth quarter of 2005, while it will have 3G up and running in most areas by the end of 2006. Cingular is already running a nationwide EDGE network.

European operator mmO2, which is yet to announce its 3G launch, stole some of the thunder from rival Orange's announcement today by saying it, too, would deploy HSDPA, with its unit on the Isle of Man offering it by summer 2005, then use that experience to guide the technology's rollout across the rest of its network -- a strategy similar to what it used for 3G.

It's interesting to see these two companies -- which have lagged their markets in some regards in rolling out high-speed mobile networks -- basically jump right to what's been called 3.5G. But like DoCoMo, they're finding that they've got to speed things up to successfully compete with and differentiate themselves from their rivals. The real challenge, though, if the rollout of 3G, and GPRS and EDGE before it are anything to go by, is when there will be a sufficient number of handsets for widescale launches. These are also two big wins for Lucent, which is clawing its way back in the network infrastructure market, and had already won a $5 billion contract to supply Verizon with EV-DO gear earlier this year.