Telstra readies 21M bps mobile broadband service

The next step in the evolution of mobile networks is almost here, which will boost speeds to 21M bps (bits per second)

Telstra will boost data speeds in its Next G mobile network to 21M bps (bits per second) early next year, and will conduct tests of the faster service this month, equipment vendor Ericsson said Friday. However, customers may have to wait longer for the arrival of compatible phones, which haven't yet caught up with previous improvements to network performance.

The technology that will make the higher speeds possible is High Speed Packet Access Evolution, also known as HSPA+ or Evolved HSPA.

The move to HSPA Evolution from the HSPA systems in use today requires a software upgrade to base stations, whereas LTE will require new base stations, said Jeanette Fridberg, director of marketing for radio access networks at Ericsson.

Subscribers, on the other hand, will need new hardware to take advantage of the higher speeds. Telstra is working with Sierra Wireless, Qualcomm and Ericsson to develop devices, it said in October.

Ericsson is now offering the first version of HSPA Evolution, but next year speeds will double to 42M bps downstream and 11M bps upstream, according to Fridberg.

The HSPA technology used in existing 3G (third generation) mobile networks tops out at around 14.4M bps, but there are only five operators which have that speed in service. About another 40 operators are offering download speeds at 7.2M bps (which is also what the fastest phones currently available can handle), according to data from industry organization GSM Association.

For example, Telstra and StarHub in Singapore are on the list of operators offering 14.4M bps service. StarHub is also moving to HSPA Evolution, but with equipment from Huawei. The upgrade should be done by the second quarter of next year, according to Huawei.

Vodafone is also considering making the move to HSPA Evolution, according to a spokesman. In February the company announced a trial with Ericsson, Huawei and Qualcomm. That trial is still under way, and Vodafone wants to make sure the technology can deliver what it promises before making the final decision, the spokesman said.

Most large operators will go to HSPA Evolution in anticipation of the next technology upgrade, LTE (Long Term Evolution), especially in countries where mobile broadband has already taken off in a big way, said Fridberg.

For Richard Webb, directing analyst at Infonetics Research, though, operators will use HSPA Evolution to put off the upgrade to LTE, while operators who have already set their sights on LTE will let nothing deflect them from that.

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