Mobile broadband looks set to be dominated by HSPA over the coming years — if hardware makers play their cards right.
A report by analyst Juniper Research predicts 70 percent of mobile-broadband subscribers will use the souped-up version of 3G by 2012. Total mobile-broadband subscribers will number 1.2 billion by then, it said — equivalent to nearly one in three mobile subscribers worldwide.
HSPA — high-speed packet access — delivers mobile broadband speeds in excess of 500Kbps, and up to several Mbps. There are currently around five million HSPA subscribers worldwide, according to international 3G advocate the UMTS Forum.
Howard Wilcox, analyst at Juniper Research and author of the Mobile Broadband Markets: WiMax, EV-DO, HSPA & Beyond 2007-2012 report, said take-off of the mobile-broadband technology will depend on the success of HSPA-enabled hardware.
He said: "If you take the iPod as an example, before the iPod existed not many people would have probably imagined that you could have such a device with its capabilities but right now that's an extremely popular device — everyone seems to have one. It's having that kind of innovation and attractiveness to particular end users which I think is key for mobile broadband."
There are currently 128 HSDPA-enabled devices — which provide data downlink speeds five to 10 times faster than standard 3GSM/WCDMA — according to the GSM Association. That figure includes 46 handsets, 32 data cards, 30 laptops and one MP3 player.
HSPA has the edge over mobile WiMax as it is "here and now", according to Wilcox. "It is out there, it's available and it is also a software upgrade from the existing 3G/GSM networks, whereas WiMax will take longer to establish itself because WiMax is essentially a new network build," he said.
Wilcox said mobile WiMax is likely to net "a single digit percent proportion of the global mobile-broadband subscriber base by 2012", with EV-DO (A and B) being the next most prolific technology after HSPA, driven by markets in the Americas and Far East.
Juniper Research said demand for mobile broadband will primarily be driven by North America and Western Europe, with China and the Far East also playing a part.
Mobile-broadband subscriber numbers are likely to surge as older hardware in developing countries is replaced by newer, broadband-enabled technology, said Wilcox.
He said: "In a few years' time [mobile broadband capability in mobile devices will] become a given and, therefore, people who previously had no mobile capability will have this almost whether they like it or not."
A recent report by Senza Fili Consulting predicted the combined total of fixed, mobile and fixed, and mobile WiMax subscribers will reach 54 million by 2012.