Vodafone has announced success in its trials of HSPA+, a version of super-3G that provides greater speeds than HSDPA without being described as 4G.
According to a statement on Thursday from the world's largest mobile operator, the trials achieved peak data-download speeds of 16Mbps. The fastest HSDPA speeds currently offered by Vodafone and its rivals run up to a maximum of 7.2Mbps, although the HSDPA roadmap goes up to maximum speeds of 14.4Mbps. Vodafone conducted its HSPA+ trials along with the telecoms infrastructure manufacturer Ericsson and the mobile-chipset maker Qualcomm.
"Successfully demonstrating a live HSPA+ high-speed connection has been a key milestone in continuing to build confidence in this new technology," said Vodafone's director of global networks, Andy MacLeod, in the statement. "The results show that HSPA+ technology is well placed to further enhance our customers' mobile-broadband experience through the evolution of our existing 3G networks."
The operator said new handsets would be required to take advantage of HSPA+ technology. HSPA+ is part of the 3GPP release 7 standard, although the trials being carried out by Vodafone and its partners also involve "certain vendor implementation features such as interference cancellation", a Vodafone spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Friday.
Vodafone and its partners in the trial will now attempt to reach speeds of up to 21Mbps "early in 2009" — it hopes to manage these speeds by using HSPA+ Multiple Input Multiple Output (Mimo) technology, which involves multiple antennae on both the base station and the handset. The operator estimates that, if the HSPA+ Mimo trials work out, realistic download speeds should be around 4Mbps, rising to more than 13Mbps "in good conditions".
Vodafone's spokesperson said "good conditions" entailed being relatively close to the base station, with few other customers using the same base station, but declined to estimate how often such conditions would be achieved.
The spokesperson also said that, depending on the success of the trials, HSPA+ could start to be rolled out in the UK late this year. Although new client devices would be required, the spokesperson said, a "big advantage" of HSPA+ is that it requires only a software upgrade to the networks.
By contrast, so-called '4G' standards such as the long-term evolution (LTE) of 3G or mobile WiMax, are rip-out-and-replace upgrades to the network.
Vodafone is still "heavily involved in LTE trials with Verizon Wireless and China Mobile", the spokesperson added.