Vodafone shows off HSDPA in NZ

New Zealand will get a taste of the next generation high-speed network technology for GSM/UMTS (Global System for Mobile Communications/Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) operators tomorrow when Vodafone New Zealand demonstrates HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) to the media.

HSDPA has a maximum theoretical download speed of 14.4Mbit/s. In real life, users can expect actual download speeds of between one and 1.8Mbit/s, with peak upload speeds of 384kbit/s. Vodafone's present 3G (third generation) service provides 384kbit/s downloads and 64kbit/s uploads.

While New Zealand is early with HSDPA, the technology is currently being rolled out by GSM operators like Cingular Wireless in the U.S. and T-Mobile in Germany. Vodafone's technology supplier for HSDPA is Nokia, which is planning in releasing the full HSPA (HSDPA plus High Speed Uplink Packet Access, HSUPA) commercially next year.

The higher downstream speed will allow Vodafone to expand its Live! content provision service, which recently added real-time news broadcasts from Prime TV. Vodafone is also trying to get a local calling alternative to rival Telecom New Zealand's fixed-line monopoly going. On top of telephone service, HSDPA gives Vodafone a broadband offering to pitch against Telecom's DSL.

Customers will need new handsets and data cards to take advantage of HSDPA. It is not known at this stage when Vodafone will have the new customer equipment ready or the pricing for it; the cost of the HSDPA service is also yet to be revealed.

The U.K.-based mobile operator was late to introduce 3G service in New Zealand, giving Telecom a headstart with its EV-DO T3G offering. This followed a lengthy delay for Vodafone when it launched the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) in 2001, but didn't have handsets and data cards until some time later.

Telecom intends to counter Vodafone's HSDPA with an upgrade to EV-DO, called Revision A. This provides 3Mbit/s downloads and 1.8Mbit/s uploads theoretically, and also gives Telecom video calling for the first time, a feature Vodafone has had since last year on its 3G service. Again, customers will need new handsets and data cards for Telecom's EV-DO Rev A, with pricing for these and the upgraded service unknown at this stage. Availability is yet to be announced.

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