Faster HSPA smartphones, modems coming soon

Video will drive the need for more bandwidth on smartphones and laptops

Smartphones and modems are about to get faster mobile broadband connections -- 14.4M bps (bits per second) and 42M bps, repectively -- using HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access).

In the shadow of the 4G battle between LTE (Long-Term Evolution) and WiMax, a growing number of operators have or are about to roll roll out HSPA+ networks. There were 58 live HSPA+ networks in operation at the beginning of August, with a further 43 local operators having made commitments to migrate to the technology soon, according to market research company Wireless Intelligence, the independent research arm of industry organization GSM Association.

Modems that can take advantage of HSPA+ speeds have been around since the beginning of last year, and now smartphones that can do the same are getting closer to launch.

On Wednesday, T-Mobile put out a teaser site to promote the upcoming Android-based G2 smartphone, which will be the first smartphone designed to run on its new HSPA+ network, according to the operator. T-Mobile didn't announce when the phone will start shipping, but it will share more information in the coming weeks, it said.

Another Android-based smartphone with a mobile broadband connection that should leave existing phones in the dust is Huawei's U8800. The phone was first announced at Mobile World in February, and is scheduled to become commercially available during the third quarter, Huawei said at the time.

The T-Mobile G2 and the Huawei U8800 will have a theoretical download peak bandwidth of 14.4M bps, compared to current smartphones, which offer download speeds at up to either 7.2M bps or in some cases 10.2M bps.

Faster data speeds can help improve the overall user experience for smartphone owners, but only if it is backed up by a robust network and applications that are easy to use, according to Pete Cunningham, senior analyst at Canalys.

To what extent users will be able to take advantage of the higher speeds also depend on the applications they use. For example, the increasing popularity of streaming video to smartphones will help drive the need for higher download speeds, according to Will Croft, analyst for Wireless Intelligence.

HSPA+ will modems will still be faster, as they already offer theoretical speeds at up to 21M bps, and will increase the lead as the first 42M bps arrive later this year.

When the first modems will arrive remains to be seen. In January, Peder Ramel, CEO at 3 Scandinavia, said he expected modems to arrive between September and November. On Thursday, Ramel said he is expecting the first modems to arrive in the fourth quarter.

The modem makers are keeping mum on launch details. In February, Australian operator Telstra announced that Sierra Wireless would deliver the modems for its 42M bps network later in 2010. Sierra has no more information to share at this time about the availability of the modem, a spokeswoman said via e-mail on Thursday.

To get from 21M bps to 42M bps, modem and mobile network vendors are implementing a technology called dual carrier, which allowsallows networks to send and receive wireless data using two channels simultaneously.

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Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
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