3.5G drives rapid mobile broadband growth

3.5G drives rapid mobile broadband growth

Summary: The number of commercial HSDPA networks launched worldwide shot up by 69 percent in 2007

TOPICS: Networking

3.5G is driving mobile broadband growth around the globe, with a rapid increase in the number of commercial HSDPA networks being rolled out.

The number of commercial HSDPA networks launched worldwide grew by 69 percent last year, according to a survey by the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) — a GSM/3G supplier association.

There are now 166 commercial HSDPA networks in 75 countries and a further 38 networks are committed to rollouts, which will bump the total to 204 HSDPA networks in 89 countries, said the GSA.

Commercial HSDPA networks are widely available in Western Europe (61 networks), Asia Pacific (35), Eastern Europe (34), the Middle East and Africa (20) and the Americas and the Caribbean (16).

HSDPA, or high-speed downlink packet access, is a beefed up flavour of 3G capable of delivering downlink speeds of up to a theoretical maximum of 7.2Mbps. Typical speeds achieved are between 800Kbps and 3Mbps.

The GSA said the rise of 3.5G is driving mobile broadband services globally, adding that HSPA (referring to both HSDPA and HSUPA) operators around the world are reporting strong subscription growth and increased profitability.

But it's not just network numbers: speed is also on the up, the survey found.

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of existing commercial HSDPA networks support downlink speeds of 3.6Mbps or more, while more than a fifth (21 percent) support the peak downlink speed of 7.2Mbps.

HSUPA (high-speed uplink packet) is rarer than HSDPA, with just 26 commercial networks launched in 22 countries. But there is evidence momentum is building here too, as all these launches occurred last year, with the vast majority taking place in the past six months.

The report added that almost 60 percent of HSPA operators combine with GSM/EDGE to bolster their network coverage.

Thomas Husson, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, backs the view that HSDPA is driving mobile broadband globally, though he said the market is still in its infancy. "It clearly is the logical next step in mobile broadband evolution and in Western Europe it will gain significant adoption moving forward," he told ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, silicon.com.

Meanwhile, rival tech mobile WiMax is not likely to be a threat to 3.5G in Western Europe until at least the end of the decade, according to Husson.

He pointed to the fact many HSDPA rollouts can be achieved by a software upgrade to existing 3G networks, giving 3.5G a headstart over WiMax, which requires dedicated network infrastructure. At present there are just two commercial mobile WiMax networks in the world, both in Korea.

Rising sales of HSPA-enabled mobiles — helped by more-generous-than-expected operator subsidies of the hardware — are helping to drive the 3.5G market in Western Europe, according to Husson. Most new 3G phones will be HSPA-enabled moving forward, he said.

Husson added: "The launch of HSUPA will enable customers to upload content from their handsets to the networks which will be increasingly important with the growing adoption of user-generated content and the rise of mobile social networking."

The GSA website features maps that show the worldwide spread of 3.5G, EDGE and 3G/WCDMA networks.

Topic: Networking

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  • HSDPA - Nice indeed

    I can say from personal experience and frequent use, HSDPA is really quite nice. I have a Swisscom Unlimited Data card (GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA), which I use quite frequently. I recall that the first time it ever found an HSDPA network was in the Edinburgh Airport, and I was surprised and pleased with the improved speed. Since then, as described in this article, HSDPA connections have become more and more common - except, in my experience, in the United States. As recently as a trip to Florida over Christmas, I have been unable to get any connection in the U.S. better than EDGE.
  • Not quite as rosy

    I'd love to share your optimism, J.A.Watson. HSPA is a necessary and needed expansion of the 3G networks. But, sweeping supplier propoganda aside, there really isn't as much coverage as they might have you believe. There may be 61 networks in Western Europe, but most of them are at a very early stage. And don't write off Wimax just yet. There's work going on in the UK through Freedom4, which is Intel funded, and has commercial deployments - albeit with fixed Wimax. But with the Wimax and 3G standards coming together, don't write it off just yet. It'll have a valuable role to play, even if it does end up playing second fiddle.
  • WiMax & HSDPA

    WiMax obviously has massive potential in the US where cellular networks are so behind the times and public access Wi-Fi is already well established but I am not so sure about in Europe.

    I have read of the two standards coming together but am not clear on how this will happen. Intel (let's face it - hardly the most caring, sharing company) have publicly gunned down cellular networks and the poor quality mobile internet experience they deliver. Their move to integrate WiMax on the chipset might create more barriers to integration and more competitive reasons for the two standards to protect some of their unique identity.

    Agreed - don't write off WiMax (Intel will not let it fail)

    Not so sure that we can expect integrated networks anytime soon. I think the new gen of 7.2 USB cards are the way to go. Coverage is rapidly improving on blackspots like the trains and there is more to come....
    James B-c7f32
  • A new train of thought

    Interesting that you note the role of the chipset in all of this. Let us not ignore Intel's potential to change the future roadmap. But I'm not so sure about blackspots improving on the trains. My experience of using a 3G datacard on a train is pretty woeful - far inferior to the experience of making a voice call. On my line (into London) I rarely get HSDPA, and for much of it, no coverage at all. It doesn't help by being inside a steel shell which shuts out the radio waves...