21Mbps will be next mobile broadband baseline: industry

19 Nov 2009

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Just months after the Global Mobile Suppliers Association confirmed that 7.2Mbps had become the baseline for mobile broadband globally, it now predicts that 21Mbps will be the next baseline for 3G mobile broadband.

Mobile broadband is continuing to grow at a fast pace due to the ever-increasing introduction of new technologies, new networks, new devices and competitive innovation in the market.

On 27 July last, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) announced that 7.2Mbps had become the new baseline for mobile broadband globally.

At that time, half of the HSPA networks in commercial service globally were capable of supporting a peak downlink data speed of 7.2Mbps or higher, supported by almost 600 user devices capable of 7.2Mbps or higher which had been launched in the market.

Some HSPA systems already support a peak downlink data speed up to 14.4Mbps.

Operators’ next step

HSPA Evolution (HSPA+) is the next step for many operators, which increases data rates by using higher order modulation schemes and multiple antenna technology (MIMO).

3GPP Release 7 introduced 64 QAM modulation, increasing the downlink peak data bit rate by 50pc to 21Mbps. In the uplink, 16 QAM doubles the peak data bit rate from 5.76Mbps to 11.5Mbps. Release 8 allows for combining 64 QAM with 2×2 MIMO for peak rates up to 42Mbps downlink and 11.5Mbps uplink (per 5 MHz carrier).

Further evolution of HSPA will utilise combinations of multi-carrier and MIMO to reach peak rates of 84Mbps downlink and 23Mbps uplink. Sixty-two operators worldwide have committed to HSPA+ network deployments.

The announcement by GSA of the 7.2Mbps benchmark prompted the question from a number of industry players about what the next baseline might be, when, and why.

In other words, what would be the mainstream mobile-broadband technology capabilities – interpreted as meaning more than 100 networks in service, with a supporting ecosystem of several hundred user devices in the market.

Survey says

GSA launched an industry-wide global survey lasting 10 weeks, via its website and on the ground at conferences, etc, to obtain industry views first-hand from network operators, suppliers and other stakeholders in mobile broadband.

The results are now available in Mobile Broadband – The Next Baseline, and show most people believe that the next baseline for mobile broadband peak downlink data speed will be 21Mbps HSPA+.

There was little difference between respondent groups (operators, suppliers, others) as the majority in each group selected 21Mbps as the most likely.

Most agreed that the new baseline of 21Mbps peak downlink will be reached by 2010 due to it being reasonably cost effective and straightforward to achieve, and is thus seen as the next logically evolutionary step for mobile broadband.

Not just about speed

Some respondents said that speed alone is not a sufficiently complete indicator for the user experience. An end-to-end approach is required when considering the user experience, and a Holistic Indicator for Quality of User Experience has been proposed.

This holistic indicator would embrace context awareness and the essence of the network capability to deliver services and applications to a mobile user. GSA will consider this aspect further.  

The survey also asked for views about when HSPA+ as a technology will become the new benchmark, ie, supporting some HSPA+ features but not necessarily a higher peak data rate, for example, utilising such features as:

– Discontinuous Transmission and Reception (for extended battery time).

– CS Voice over HSPA (increases talk time).

– Shorter set-up times.

The results confirmed that most (59pc) believed this would be reached in 2010, 29pc stating it would be 2011, and 12pc indicating 2012 or later.

Building will take time

While accepting the majority view for 21Mbps as the next benchmark, it will take time to build the terminals market for widespread availability, especially where MIMO is to be implemented, since this will add complexity and cost to devices.

Operators may also be unwilling to increase subsidies for such devices. And although 2010 is the time frame that more than 60pc agree on for 21Mbps, it will be a key challenge for the industry to ensure sufficient terminals in the market by that date, which in the end might be more like 2011/12.

The latest GSA survey on Global HSPA+ Network Commitments and Deployments confirms that 62 operators in 35 countries have committed to HSPA+ network deployments.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The introduction of new technologies, new networks, new devices and competitive innovation in the market is contributing to mobile broadband’s fast rate of growth.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com