Next year’s implementation of high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) by the Vodafone Group will serve business customers first but has long-term potential as a fixed-line replacement for residential customers, according to Vodafone Ireland’s head of business products Chris Handley.
An incremental upgrade technology for 3G networks, he says Vodafone HSDPA will launch with download speeds of 1.2Mbps rising to 12Mbps within 12 months. Existing 3G networks have a download rate of 384Kbps. The significant speed hike is the mobile carrier’s equivalent to Wi-Max, according to Handley, though it operates on a frequency that will enable it to cover greater distances.
“The technology is here and out in the US. Vodafone Group is conducting trials and right now we’re evaluating how we want to come to market with it and what our strategy will be,” says Handley. “Exactly how we do it and when is something we’re still working on,”
He does confirm, however, that business customers will be the first to benefit from the higher speeds: “Our existing consumer services already have enough bandwidth with 3G so it’s likely that it will be a business offering initially.” But he’s quick to stress that when it reaches speeds of 12Mpbs it will open up significant new markets for Vodafone. “We will also be looking at fixed-line replacement products. Copper is no longer a necessity for broadband,” he adds.
The upshot is that the new technology will bring mobile networks into greater competition with residential and business carriers. “We will have a bandwidth portfolio,” says Handley. “GPRS will be everywhere, but as you move towards the city you will be able to use Wi-Fi, with 3G and HSDPA in the centre.”
Rollout obstacles are minimal, according to Handley, because the technology is compatible with 3G infrastructure and sits on top of existing networks. Availability of handsets, however, could delay launch timetables if previous experiences of next-generation networks are anything to go by.
LG, Samsung and NEC had planned to launch product by the end of this year but it’s looking increasingly like it will be the middle of 2006 before handsets become available.
O2 has already said it’s committed to HSDPA and is understood to be trialling the technology at its Isle of Man test facility.
By Ian Campbell
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