Mobile workers should be able to access much faster 3G mobile services next year in some parts of the UK, if operators keep to their current plans for the rollout of HSDPA services.
HSDPA — dubbed Super 3G by some — is an enhancement of existing UMTS 3G technology. It offers the promise of download speeds of 3Mbps compared to the 384Kbps of Europe's UMTS networks today, and could rival WiMax — another high-speed wireless technology that is causing plenty of excitement in the mobile industry.
O2 will test HSPDA on the Isle of Man this summer and Dave Williams, O2's chief technology officer, is confident that these trials will lead to commercial deployment in the UK, Ireland and Germany in 2006.
"HSDPA has at least a two-year lead on mobile WiMax," Williams told ZDNet UK, pointing out that 802.16e, the mobile flavour of WiMax, isn't standardised yet.
O2 isn't planning to make HSDPA available across the whole of its existing 3G network, though.
"It will be on offer in hotspot-type areas — lots in London, initially, and then we'll build out from there," said Williams, explaining that the first areas to get 3G will be those where data consumption is highest today.
Vodafone and T-Mobile have both said they are also planning to offer HSDPA in 2006, and Orange is also trialling the technology. Vodafone has predicted that HSDPA could eventually offer download speeds of 12Mbps.
But research published earlier this week by Informa Telecoms & Media suggests that HSDPA could be hamstrung by a lack of compatible handsets.
"Despite early predictions from Samsung, LG and NEC of handsets becoming available from the end of 2005, HSDPA-enabled handsets are only likely to appear commercially in large volumes from mid-2006 onwards, forcing operators to limit their launches to datacard users in the initial stages," predicted John Everington, a senior analyst with Informa.
O2's Isle of Man trials involve datacards, limiting their use to laptops.