Hutchison's HSDPA coming early next year

Mobile carrier Hutchison wants to start providing data speeds of up to 3.6 megabits per second on the back of its third-generation (3G) mobile phone network from March or April next year.

Mobile carrier Hutchison wants to start providing data speeds of up to 3.6 megabits per second on the back of its third-generation (3G) mobile phone network from March or April next year.

While the network Hutchison shares with Telstra currently only allows speeds of up to 375kbps, the infrastructure will be upgraded to use the High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) protocol, which theoretically allows speeds of up to 14.4Mbps.

"From a data speed standpoint, HSDPA will be there in the first half of next year for us," said Hutchison chief executive Kevin Russell. "We'd like to get it in around the March/April timeframe."

Kevin Russell

"Theoretical network speeds with HSDPA at that time will be about 3.6Mbps, but I think we'll be handset-constrained at that point in time to 1Mbps."

Russell said by the end of 2007 it was likely the network could support speeds of 7.2Mbps, with the 14.4Mbps limit being reached in the middle of 2009.

"The speeds are coming," he said.

He outlined the plans at a press briefing this afternoon in Sydney.

The enhanced speeds would allow Hutchison to offer a more fixed-type wireless broadband service over the 3G network. Vodafone is already selling such a service internationally and has previously indicated its interest in competing with established players like Telstra, Unwired and Personal Broadband Australia in the local market.

"We will look increasingly at opportunities to move into a home environment. The way the data speeds are going says there's some interesting things we can do," said Russell.

"I think we'll look very carefully at how the market gets regulated and how strong the broadband players apart from Telstra become in the marketplace." He added Hutchison may seek to partner with other fixed-line players in the area.

Behind the scenes, like most major telcos Hutchison is standardising its internal network on the Internet Protocol (IP). "We'll go all IP from a network standpoint," said Russell. "That just means improved efficiencies, from about 2009."

One such service to run over the network could be Voice over IP, with Russell mentioning potential partnerships with global Internet telephony leader Skype. However, it could be several years before his company could capitalise on the opportunities offered by VoIP, he said.

On another front, Russell said Hutchison was unlikely to follow Vodafone and Lenovo's example and launch in Australia a laptop with 3G mobile broadband access built in. "Not sure ... probably not," he said.

The PCMCIA cards that Hutchison sells to enable mobile broadband in laptops may finally be taking off though.

"It's taken us until now to really get traction on the data cards," said Russell, adding it had only been in the last six months that Hutchison had gained the skills necessary to sell into the primary market for the cards -- businesses.

Hutchison has around one million customers on its network, which covers most capital cities. This base represents around two-thirds of 3G mobile customers in Australia, according to Russell.

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