Vodafone looks set to beat its UK rivals by launching the first commercial HSDPA mobile service in Britain.
HSDPA (high-speed download packet access) is an enhancement to basic 3G networks that offers much faster download speeds. It has been described as Super-3G or 3.5G, but Vodafone will brand it as "3G broadband".
Vodafone will launch its HSDPA service in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Hong Kong on Thursday. The UK service will only be available in Glasgow, Sheffield, Greater Manchester, Tyneside and within the M25, with coverage across the whole 3G network planned by summer 2007.
"In the same way that we rolled out 3G, our 3G broadband coverage will be usage and customer-demand led," said a Vodafone spokesman.
Vodafone's HSDPA service will cost the same as its current 3G offering. This means customers can pay £25+VAT per month to download up to 250MB of data, with each further megabyte costing £1. There is also a £45 "unlimited" package with a 1GB limit, which at full specified speed can be reached in around an hour and a half. Use above that limit may trigger a variety of responses from Vodafone according to its "reasonable opinion", including unspecified access charges and/or termination of service.
The HSDPA cards will cost £49 for customers on the unlimited package, or £99 for the capped package. According to the Vodafone spokesman, this is slightly more than standard 3G cards. Initially, both types of card will be available, but Vodafone plans to move to a "one-card solution".
Vodafone claimed that HSDPA will provide download speeds of up to 1.4Mbps, and upload speeds of 384Kbps. In testing, download speeds of 3.6Mbps have been achieved, and Nortel has estimated that 7.2Mbps will eventually be feasible.
The other four UK mobile operators — O2, T-Mobile, Orange and 3 — have also been developing their own HDSPA networks. They are all expected to launch services this year, and T-Mobile will launch its HSDPA service in August, according to The Independent.
Last month, it emerged that T-Mobile had banned its 3G datacard customers from using VoIP and instant messaging services. This sparked a storm of criticism, and Vodafone doesn't appear likely to follow T-Mobile's lead.
"Vodafone does not operate a policy of blocking VoIP on its network, and we have no plans to restrict IM services," said the company spokesman.