Manx Telecom, a wholly-owned subsidiary of O2, has formally launched what it claims is the first commercial HSDPA network in Europe.
Based on the Isle of Man, the network supports downloads at up to 1.4Mbps with incremental upgrades expected to raise this to 10Mbps by 2008. "This is the first super 3G network" said. Dave Williams, O2's chief technology officer, "It's the 3G everybody wanted."
No handsets are currently available; the service is only currently delivered by Sierra Wireless AirCard 850 PC cards. When phones become available next year, the company says, they'll be comparable in size and shape to current 3G models.
In tests carried out by ZDNet UK, pictured below, peak download speed was measured at 1.29Mbps with an average over 10 minutes of 480Kbps. 300Kbps streamed video displayed perfectly.
Although pricing is nominally the same as Manx Telecom's existing wireless data services — with the heaviest user tariff at £40 a month for 100MB inclusive and 60p per megabyte thereafter, the next three months will see heavy discounts as the company watches usage patterns.
A screenshot of ZDNet UK's speed testing procedure
"My gut feeling is that a bundled deal with 1GB of inclusive data is per month about right", said Chris Hall, managing director of Manx Telecom. "Whatever we decide is likely to be followed closely when the HSDPA service launches in the UK, Germany and Ireland in mid-2006."
The Isle of Man network has thirty base stations, each of which can share 8Mbps between up to 70 users. At present, it has a mere 20 users, out of a population of 65,000. The network has the capacity to support 2,000 users.
Manx Telecom says that as usage increases, it will use DSL to increase the backhaul capacity to the base stations, with a move to gigabit Ethernet probable in the long term. With no packet filtering or port blocking, the service will support all existing Internet services. "We're of the inclination to let the best man win", said Williams.
O2 also claimed that two major laptops vendors are planning to launch laptops with built-in HSDPA support in 2006, but refused to name them.