HSPA still viable, don't rush into LTE

Operators can still rely on existing HSPA networks to serve customers and there is no need to rush into LTE just yet, according to industry panelists at CommunicAsia.

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--There is life yet in HSPA technology and operators should maximize existing networks and not rush headlong into LTE, said industry panelists at CommunicAsia.

Speaking at a roundtable session here Thursday, Ronny Haraldsvik, SpiderCloud vice president of marketing, said operators can still rely on their HSPA (high speed packet access) and HSPA+ networks to satisfy customers' bandwidth needs even as LTE (long term evolution) gets rolled out globally.

LTE, the next cellular wireless broadband standard, is still some years away from mass deployment because it needs to wait for the device ecosystem to ramp up and for operators to trial networks, Haraldsvik said.

Furthermore, LTE coverage will only be available in pockets, with operators unlikely to lay down such massive capital expenditures required for nationwide coverage, he added.

During his presentation at the tradeshow, Ovum analyst Nathan Burley also noted that most operators will still rely on HSPA and HSPA+ for the next few years. "We have to remember that coverage won't be everywhere from day one," he said.

Burley said LTE-specific applications will not emerge in the short- or medium-term until more networks are available commercially.

Demand for mobile bandwidth is driven by broadband applications and this, for the time being, will be satisfied by operators via HSPA, he said.

He pointed out that operators still have to contend with uncertainties regarding LTE, such as how fast speeds will be in actuality since these would be slower than the theoretical peak speeds currently touted in discussions about LTE.

Another area of concern focuses on whether the 4G technology will be able to support voice services reliably.

"Voice was overlooked in the excitement to position LTE as a high-speed, high-bandwidth data enabler," Burley said, noting that voice will still contribute 47 percent of operator revenues into 2015, even though that proportion is gradually dropping each year.

One of the panelists, Peter Wang, chief engineer at Huawei Technologies, said operators can stretch their network by maximizing HSPA spectral efficiency to close the gap with LTE's bandwidth capacity. This can be done by increasing the number of base station units or upgrading the units' software, Wang said.

However, Dirk Wolter, CTO North and Southeast Asia at Alcatel-Lucent, noted that while such measures can delay LTE to an extent, operators will reach a point where it will make more sense to switch over to LTE as a future-ready network.

Bandwidth and spectrum needs will push operators into choosing the LTE path, said Wolter.

He added that as HSPA has been primarily a GSM game, the LTE landscape will also see new players such as WiMax operators entering the market, he said.

While some observers had deemed LTE and WiMax as competing technologies, most now believe WiMax operators will eventually migrate to an LTE platform to stay commercially viable.

In a previous ZDNet Asia report, a Motorola executive said WiMax operators have a viable path getting into LTE with one of its flavors, TD-LTE. WiMax is a TDD (time division duplex) technology and operators can take advantage of shared hardware assets such as base station units and radio transmitters to move into TD-LTE, said Bruce Brda, Motorola senior vice president and general manager of home and networks mobility.