Vodafone to launch
HSDPA this year

23 Jan 2006

CEO of Vodafone in Ireland Teresa Elder (pictured) has confirmed the company will be launching its first high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) products in the Irish market this year.

The products, which are capable of quadrupling existing 3G data speeds, will ensure nationwide wireless broadband availability. She also revealed the company signed up in excess of 20,000 3G customers over the Christmas period.

Speaking exclusively to siliconrepublic.com, Elder said the advent of HSDPA in the Irish market later this year will see existing 3G data speeds quadruple from their present 384Kbps to around 1.2Mbps.

In recent months Elder has publicly advocated mobile as a solution to Ireland’s broadband woes but acknowledges that much work needs to be done on the pricing of mobile data in order to make it attractive to Irish consumers. “I spent a lot of my life in the US rolling out broadband and the image of Ireland is as a hi-tech, highly educated place. But then you look at the broadband penetration situation and it just doesn’t add up.”

She cited growing evidence that Irish businesses and consumers are open to using 3G. “Customers are using their laptops with Mobile Connect Cards to access the internet at speeds of around 384Kbps. Depending on how you define broadband — which is usually higher than that — it is certainly much faster than dial-up.

“Uptake of our Mobile Connect Cards is strong and we have begun to offer more attractive data bundles. However, we are also seeing new trends emerge. Customers who have 3G phones are taking USB cables and plugging their phones into their laptops, using their mobile phones as a modem. We observed this trend and have started packaging disks and USB cables with new phones so if users wish they can use 3G as a broadband service.”

In the past week communications equipment provider Nortel demonstrated 3.6Mbps using a HSDPA data card. The connections were made from a laptop in a moving vehicle and supported activities including applications that might be used by mobile workers, MP3 downloads, high-definition video on demand and live TV.

However, Elder was more conservative about the promise of HSDPA. “Nortel’s 3.6Mbps data rate was achieved in a test environment so I’m not promising that speed. But we do think it will be around 1.2Mbps download and that in anybody’s book right now is a broadband speed.

“One of the big differences that HSDPA promises is that it is not about putting a cable into your house but being able to take your laptop anywhere. You could bring it to the park on a nice day. It is mobility in addition to the speed. Compared with broadband such as DSL, it’s not just like with like. It adds all the advantages of mobile on top.

“We are going to be doing HSDPA in Ireland this year. We’ve been trialling it in other countries and will optimise our 3G network in Ireland to carry it. We’re really pleased with how our network reliability is on 3G. Catering for HSDPA will mean augmenting the network on an ongoing basis.”

Elder said that at present Vodafone is spending €3m a week on its infrastructure. “We are going to be investing in a significant upgrade to our existing 3G network to handle HSDPA, which will take the network to the next level. Our total investment in our Irish network infrastructure is €1bn over seven years and we’re half way through that spend right now,” Elder told siliconrepublic.com.

Elder added that Vodafone witnessed the highest volumes for 3G yet in the Irish market and revealed that in excess of 20,000 customers signed up for 3G in the Christmas sales period.

Vodafone’s key performance indicators for the Irish market are expected to be unveiled tomorrow. In annual filings Vodafone has declared annual pre-tax profits of €339.5m from its two million-strong Irish customer base, according to reports last week. Turnover is understood to have fallen to €1.21bn from €1.4bn the previous year and its pre-tax profit was marginally behind the previous year’s sum of €3.41bn.

By John Kennedy