Ericsson has demonstrated one part of the technology that will make speeds of up to 42 Mbps (bits per second) possible in 3G networks. However, a lot of work remains before services can be launched.
The technology that will make the higher speed possible is HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) Evolution, also known as HSPA+ or Evolved HSPA.
Ericsson demonstrated the technology by connecting one of its radio base stations via a cable to a prototype mobile chipset from Qualcomm, which will be used in future modems. The company hopes to have an over-the-air demonstration ready for the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona in February, and the first services should become available in three to six months, according to Frank Muller, product manager at Ericsson.
Today, HSPA offers a theoretical maximum download speed of 21 Mbps, although users will see lower speeds in practice. About 10 percent of operators who support HSPA have so far upgraded to 21 Mbps, according to statistics from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).
To double the capacity to 42 Mbps, HSPA Evolution sends data over two carrier frequencies, compared to one for existing networks. The carriers use 5 MHz of spectrum each and they are located next to each other, according to Ericsson. To take advantage of the higher speed, operators will have to upgrade the software in their base stations, and users will need a new modem.
There are other ways to increase HSPA capacity: three networks are using MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) with multiple antennas in each phone and base station to offer theoretical download speeds of up to 28 Mbps, the GSA said.
Representatives from Vodafone and the Australian operator Telstra visited Stockholm to view Ericsson's demonstration. The two operators will likely be the first to roll out the technology in their networks. When Ericsson rolls out a new technology it first works closely with a couple of operators, and then makes the technology generally available, the company said.
The upgrade to 42 Mbps isn't the end of the line for 3G networks. Work has already started on support for 84 Mbps and 168 Mbps systems, Muller said.
The demo comes in the same week as Swedish mobile operator TeliaSonera launched the first commercial LTE (Long-Term Evolution) mobile services, which could attain speeds of 80 Mbps.
HSPA and LTE won't compete, but will work in symbiosis, according to Bengt Nordström, CEO at market research company Northstream. LTE is still in its infancy, and operators who roll out the technology will have to depend on HSPA as a back-up, according to Nordström. The success of HSPA will drive the need for LTE, he said.
Just as with LTE, it will take time for HSPA at 42 Mbps to take off on a larger scale. Next year, the 21-Mbps version will become more common, and we'll also see the first smartphones that support the speed, according to Nordström.