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Global HSPA+ deployments set to surpass 100mark

posted 17 Aug 2010, 10:08 by Ramy Caspi
Fifty-eight networks upgraded to HSPA+ in the last 18 months

Over a hundred global operators have now committed to rolling out HSPA+ networks, according to new Wireless Intelligence research. Our study shows that there were 58 live HSPA+ networks in operation at the beginning of August (see graphic) with a further 43 local operators having made commitments to migrate to the technology soon. There have been 19 HSPA+ network launches to date in 2010. The latest number of live networks means that HSPA+ now accounts for around 15-20 percent of the over 300 total HSPA network deployments worldwide. Significant new operators due to launch HSPA+ soon include AT&T in the US (due to launch by year-end with 250 million population coverage); Chunghwa and Far EasTone in Taiwan; Singapore's SingTel, Japan's SoftBank; and Germany's T-Mobile, O2 and E-Plus.

The growth in the number of HSPA+ networks comes just 18 months after Australian market-leader Telstra launched the world's first HSPA+ network in February 2009. The most recent operator to complete its HSPA+ upgrade was Qatar's Qtel, which switched on its new network in its home market this week, offering peak download speeds of 21Mb/s and 5.8Mb/s in the uplink.

The most common version of HSPA+ (64QAM) offers theoretical top speeds of around 21Mb/s though some operator deployments are aiming for HSPA+ speeds up to four times faster using dual-carrier and MIMO technology. Those already to have done so include Qtel's Indosat subsidiary in Indonesia, Etisalat in Egypt and Japan's EMOBILE, which have all introduced the dual-carrier version this year.

Australia's Telstra has still to complete its upgrade to 42Mb/s (due in 2H10) despite last year claiming that it had become the first operator in the world to test HSPA+ dual-carrier technology outside of laboratory conditions. Nevertheless, Telstra has been the most high-profile pioneer of HSPA technology to date, launching its HSPA-based 'Next G' network back in October 2006. The network initially offered top speeds of 3.6Mb/s but was subsequently upgraded to 14.4Mb/s and then – following the HSPA+ upgrade in February 2009 – to 21Mb/s. However, as is the case with most of the speeds advertised by operators, real world speeds on the network are significantly lower. A GSMA-backed study by Signals Research Group in December last year found that Next G's HSPA+ network only delivered downlink data rates above 5Mb/s around 50 percent of the time, with peak speeds of around 17Mb/s. It noted that this made HSPA+ broadly comparable with mobile WiMAX.

Telstra claims that Next G now covers 1.9 million square kilometres, serving 99 percent of the Australian population (though HSPA+ coverage is likely to be significantly smaller). According to the latest Wireless Intelligence data, Telstra had migrated around 75 percent of its customer base over to the network by 2Q10, due partly to a strong portfolio of HSPA-enabled devices. Next G has also served as a useful platform for mobile broadband. By year-end 2009, Telstra said that it had 1.3 million mobile broadband customers, up from 1 million six months earlier. Revenue from mobile broadband services rose by 32 percent to US$368 million over the same period, though APRU fell slightly due to the introduction of lower-cost prepaid mobile broadband deals. The operator is also promoting Next G mobile broadband services at enterprise customers and via its fixed-line broadband arm, Big Pond.

Matt Ablott, Analyst, Wireless Intelligence:

The news that the number of HSPA+ networks is set to surpass 100 globally reflects the fact that the upgrade provides a way for operators to potentially double the speeds on their HSPA-based 3G networks relatively cheaply and easily. The wide deployment of HSPA networks in most markets will mean that HSPA+ is likely to be the fastest network available to most subscribers for several years to come, especially as most operators are still waiting for LTE spectrum to be auctioned and allocated. Indeed, some operators without a firm migration path to LTE – notably T-Mobile USA – are deploying HSPA+ partly as a way to keep pace with rivals that are planning early LTE rollouts (Verizon Wireless in this instance). For others, investment in HSPA+ is simply a way of squeezing the most revenue from their existing networks, though operators will at some point need to figure out a way to differentiate HSPA+ and LTE services (other than data download speed), and define which coverage vs. capacity route they want to take depending on spectrum availability (urban vs. rural). These decisions will define future capex commitments and rollout schedules and could mean that LTE deployment will take longer for HSPA+ operators compared to those moving directly to LTE. Meanwhile, one major drag on subscriber uptake of HSPA+ is currently the lack of compatible handsets; while there are now over 1,000 HSPA devices available only a handful of these support HSPA+, and nearly all of these are dongles. T-Mobile USA is supporting its new network with an own-branded HSPA+ USB data stick (webConnect Rocket), but has said that it will launch one of the world’s first HSPA+ smartphones by year-end (believed to be an Android device from HTC). In the meantime, as Telstra is demonstrating, mobile broadband services (via dongles, datacards and embedded-laptops) will be the main business case for HSPA+ in the near term.

Global HSPA+ deployments
Source: Company data, Wireless Intelligence

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