3 to trial 42Mbps broadband this year – on road to LTE

13 May 2010

3 Ireland today unveiled Europe’s first deployment of i-HSPA mobile broadband network technology which will pave the way for an eventual move to LTE in the next 18 months, the company said.

CEO Robert Finnegan said the company is planning to trial 21Mbps and 42Mbps broadband speeds this year and by Q4 will have 14.4Mbps services commercially available on its Irish network which covers 97pc of the Irish market. He also said the company is planning to sell the iPad tablet computer later this year.

He said that i-HSPA is a world first for Ireland and is the first step towards Long Term Evolution (LTE) that will enable the company to provide speeds in excess of 50Mbps.

3 Ireland chief technology officer David Hennessy explained the deployment in Ireland with Nokia Siemens is a world’s first and demonstrates how Ireland can be a leader in the smart economy globally.

“Since three years ago, when we first unveiled HSPA service, there has been constant growth in demand for broadband services year-on-year driven by a lot of market shifts such as cloud computing. People want to be able to access their apps and their data in the cloud wherever they are. We’re seeing a huge shift towards smart devices driven by the popularity of the iPhone, the growth of Android phones and the imminent arrival of the iPad to market. We will also see a multitude of devices with phone technology built in.

“i-HSPA technology is a data technology with a flat architecture that is built for data but also supports voice networks. Your traditional cell network would have various signalling nodes and gateways to the internet. With the new technology, the base station talks to the gateway and the traffic goes directly to the internet.”

What i-HSPA technology will do

Hennessy said that the i-HSPA technology will revolutionise latency and ping times, leading to a knock-on effect for real-time gaming. He said that through the company’s partnership with BT in the construction of its network, 3 will have access to BT’s Etherflow network which will give it Ethernet backhaul to its base stations.

Hennessy confirmed that 3 will double the speed of its mobile broadband network from 7.8Mbps today to 14.4Mbps by the autumn. “We will be trialling 21Mbps and 42Mbps services and after that we’re into the realm of LTE. All we need is the spectrum decisions and we’re ready to go.”

A key development arising from i-HSPA deployment will be the ability to provide fixed IP addresses which could have a massive impact on machine-to-machine (M2M) applications and the support of mission critical services like ATM machines for banks.

Ari Kynaslahti, head of controller product management for Nokia-Siemens Networks explained that 3G is really a bridge to LTE and 2010 will be a pivotal year in the deployment of flexi base stations. “Where man can go, a base station can go, they are easier to deploy now.”

He said that the i-HSPA network is effectively LTE-ready, requiring only a software upgrade at the base station to go to LTE.

“Smartphones have created a new type of challenge to the mobile network. Traditionally, nobody paid any attention to the signalling traffic, but worldwide as soon as the iPhone was introduced, signalling traffic doubled within two weeks.”

Damien Gallagher, head of the National Broadband Scheme at 3 Ireland, explained that 3 Ireland envisages major opportunities in the M2M space by putting mobile broadband capabilities inside a host of devices, from smart meters in the home to electric vehicles.

“Mobile voice has overtaken the fixed line world and we believe the same will happen in a multitude of devices with embedded SIMs built-in. We can’t envisage a device of the future that won’t have the capability built-in to access the internet. This means there’s a major market opportunity in the embedded mobile market, covering everything from utilities and transport to consumer, health and clean tech.

“Right now in Ireland there are 5,000 smart meters gathering data and we see a host of M2M application opportunities for embedded devices that are measuring the quality of water, interacting with security alarms, in vending machines and we see other machine-to-enterprise opportunities where we can work with companies like Esso, Spar, Super Valu, Bank of Ireland and AIB.

“The revenue potential for this is enormous because in the coming years there will be 50bn devices and growing – a massive market for operators,” he said, adding that 3 now has 200,000 mobile broadband customers in the Irish market. “We plan to go for the M2M market in the same way we went after mobile broadband.”

Finnegan explained that between 35pc and 40pc of 3’s broadband network in Ireland is connected to BT’s Etherflow technology. “We will see more of the network upgrade to Etherflwo this year.”

He also confirmed that 3 plans to be selling Apple’s iPad computer. “Yes, we’d expect to be selling iPad later this year.”

One of the key hurdles in the way of LTE is spectrum and Finnegan said that there are a number of forms of spectrum the mobile industry needs to get access to. “These include the 2.1Ghz band, the 2.6Ghz band which is currently earmarked by UPC for MMDS and the 900Mhz old 2G mobile spectrum that we are awaiting regulatory decisions on.

“Adequate spectrum will be key to full LTE delivery,” Finnegan said in conclusion, adding that the onset of LTE in the Irish market could be 18 months to two years away yet.

By John Kennedy

Photo: 3 Ireland CEO Robert Finnegan

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years