Packets more punch for mobile data users

From this summer, the main mobile operators will launch services based on fast mobile technology called HSDPA (High-Speed Data Packet Access).

From this summer, the main mobile operators will launch services based on fast mobile technology called HSDPA (High-Speed Data Packet Access).

HSDPA, also called 3.5G, is the next generation of 3G, and a technology upgrade to current UMTS networks, sending data packets over a 5MHz bandwidth.

The technology is integrated into notebooks and smartphones and is reputedly several times faster than current 384kbps 3G speeds - up to a theoretical 15Mbps.

Samsung is among the mobile suppliers to demonstrate 3.6Mbps speeds, although analysts have been more sceptical about whether these will be achievable in commercial services in the near future.

Jason Chapman, managing vice-president at analyst firm Gartner, said that while HSDPA would give companies fast mobile access to business applications and data, links from the network to mobile PCs would run at between 500kbps and 700kbps.

"HSDPA brings ISDN speed, and is good enough for most applications. For doing e-mail with attachments and gaining access to corporate applications, these things become a lot more usable," said Chapman.

Operators upgraded their networks in 2005 to support HSDPA.  But the technology is backwards compatible, so where 3G networks do not support HSDPA, users will continue to get mobile access, but with data speeds dropping down to 3G or GPRS-levels.

O2 was one of the first network operators to trial HSDPA technology, running a pilot on the Isle of Man last November. O2 will initially deliver its service direct to notebooks later this year.

Dave Williams, O2's chief technology officer, said, "HSDPA is probably the 3G we always wanted. Even in a loaded network, the reliability will be there. You can get six times more data on HSDPA than on 3G."

Later this month, Vodafone will become the second UK operator to run HSDPA trials. O2, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and 3 all plan to offer HSDPA services in the UK either later this year, or in 2007.

This month, 100 business users will test Vodafone's HSDPA service using its Mobile Connect laptop cards across London. This trial follows limited Vodafone HSDPA tests in the area around its Newbury headquarters.

Vodafone plans to launch a commercial HSDPA service this summer, mainly to users in the South East. The mobile operator said most users in the UK's major towns and cities will have HSDPA available to them by the end of the year.

Tim Miles, Vodafone UK chief executive, said, "We have seen high demand for 3G since its launch two years ago and our customers are hungry for the improvements that HSDPA will deliver."

Analysts said businesses should get involved in the trials, but wait until the technology's stability and reliability have been established before adopting it more widely.

T-Mobile has partnered with Nokia, which has produced an HSDPA software upgrade to its networks, so they can run at between 1mbps and 2mbps. T-Mobile said it would launch a UK service later this year.

For businesses that want to start preparing for the fast mobile technology, the main notebook makers are gearing up to sell business notebooks with integrated HSDPA.

Dell said that by June it would be selling HSDPA-equipped notebooks in the UK that use Vodafone's integrated Sierra Wireless Aircard HSDPA data card.

Lenovo said it planned to integrate a Sierra Wireless HSDPA card from Vodafone into new models of its Thinkpad T60 and X60 notebooks. These are expected to emerge before June, and Lenovo HSDPA laptops will support 3G, Edge and GPRS. Thinkpad customers will be able to upgrade their notebooks to HSDPA when it is available, the company said.

Hewlett-Packard demonstrated HSDPA-equipped notebooks at the 3GSM wireless conference in February. It plans to sell its Broadband Wireless business notebooks, which support worldwide triband frequencies this autumn.

As for HSDPA phones, Samsung was among the first smartphone makers to demonstrate a model, the SGH-Z560, a clamshell mobile with data speeds of up to 3.6mbps. The firm said it would be available this year. Lesser known manufacturer BenQ Mobile said it would release its EF91 HSDPA phone in June, making it one of the first available.

In terms of integrating 3G mobile devices with Wi-Fi networks, fixed lines and PBXs, work is being done by suppliers such as Avaya, Alcatel, BT, Cisco, Motorola and Nokia, said Nick McQuire, senior analyst for wireless at Yankee Group. However, much of the work is at the trial stage.

Before usable business services become available, suppliers need to sort out tariffs, handset availability, and standards, added McQuire.

What is HSDPA?

High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), also known as 3.5G, is a mobile telephony protocol that brings Lan-like data transmission speeds to mobile devices. The packet-based data service runs over a 5MHz bandwidth on W-CDMA - the technology behind 3G. HSDPA has a low latency, which means fewer delays to users when downloading attachments and accessing demanding business applications such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management.

Read more on Mobile hardware