HSDPA -- 3.5G -- Makes Progress Worldwide

Carl Weinschenk

There is certain to be confusion when emerging and future technologies are discussed. In the case of mobility, at least some of the challenge stems from the labels being used. The two most popular labels today are 3.5G and 4G. Clearly, 4G is better, right?

Perhaps. It is prudent, however, to disregard the labels because they suggest a linear growth: from 2G to 2.5G to 3G and to 3.5G and 4G beyond. (Thankfully, nobody seems to be talking about 5G yet.) The reality is a lot fuzzier -- and, as usual, more interesting.

This News.com story discusses High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), a form of 3.5G that the piece says is growing rapidly. The writer uses numbers from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), which says there now are 166 commercial networks in 75 countries, with 38 more set to deploy.

There might not be a clear path from one standard to the next. The standards overlaps, and decisions must be made by service providers and, ultimately, users. The three most interesting points in the story:

  • Few of these 3.5G networks are in North America.
  • The average speed of these networks is trending upwards.
  • Unlike 4G networks such as WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE), in many cases HSDPA operation can be achieved via a firmware upgrade to 3G networks. "True" 4G networks require equipment changes.

WiseGeek has a good rundown on HSDPA. The goal is to provide a mobile equivalent of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) service. To do this, HSDPA multiples the data transfer rate by a factor of five or more compared to Wideband-Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA), the standard on which it is based. Some technical details are offered on how the faster data rates are achieved. It is unclear when the piece was written, and some of the details may be a bit dated, but the overall accuracy is good.


The momentum touted by the GSA is justified, at least outside the United States. Last week, Chunghwa Telecom said that it will install 800 HSDPA base stations in Taiwan this year. The company says it now fields 4,500 3G base stations, 4,000 of which support HSDPA. The download speed of the HSDPA support will increase as well, reaching 10.7 Mbps during the third quarter. Chunghwa is Taiwan's largest cell phone and wireline operator.


There also is action Down Under. Last month, Australian operator Telstra reported that its HSDPA subscriber rolls passed 2 million the previous month. The carrier, which packages the service as Next G, said it is expanding the features available in the service, and is adding 250,000 customers per month.


The extra bandwidth that HSDPA will provide could cause problems for operators who are not prepared for it. Simply, there may be too much traffic to transmit from base stations to the central offices or wherever else it is destined to go. This week, WirelessWeek reported that T-Mobile ran a pilot in Germany using RAD Data Communication's ACE-3000 gateways that enable backhauling of signals via Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line 2+ (ADSL 2+) lines from T-Com, a RAD sister company. The piece says the current standard technology for backhaul is Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) which, unlike DSL, is not Ethernet-based.

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