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Industry predicts 21 Mbps to be next mobile broadband baseline

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Mobile broadband is continuing to grow at a fast pace due to the ever increasing introduction of new technologies, new networks, new devices and competitive innovation in the market. In July, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) announced that 7.2 Mbps had become the new baseline for mobile broadband globally, since at that time half of the HSPA networks in commercial service globally were capable of supporting a peak downlink data speed of 7.2 Mbps or higher, supported by almost 600 user devices capable of 7.2 Mbps or higher which had been launched in the market. Some HSPA systems support a peak downlink data speed up to 14.4 Mbps.

HSPA Evolution (HSPA+) is the next step for many operators, which increases data rates by using higher order modulation schemes and multiple antenna technology (MIMO). 3GPP Release 7 introduced 64 QAM modulation, increasing the downlink peak data bit rate by 50% to 21 Mbps. In the uplink, 16 QAM doubles the peak data bit rate from 5.76 Mbps to 11.5 Mbps. Release 8 allows for combining 64 QAM with 22 MIMO for peak rates up to 42 Mbps downlink and 11.5 Mbps uplink (per 5 MHz carrier). Further evolution of HSPA will utilize combinations of multi-carrier and MIMO to reach peak rates of 84 Mbps downlink and 23 Mbps uplink.

A total of 62 operators worldwide have committed to HSPA+ network deployments.

The announcement by GSA of the 7.2 Mbps benchmark prompted the question from a number of industry players about what the next baseline might be, when, and why. In other words, what would be the mainstream mobile broadband technology capabilities - interpreted as meaning more than 100 networks in service, with a supporting eco-system of several hundred user devices in the market.

GSA launched an industry-wide global survey lasting 10 weeks, via its website and on the ground at conferences, etc. to obtain industry views first-hand from network operators, suppliers and other stakeholders in mobile broadband.

The results are now available in Mobile Broadband - The Next Baseline, and show that most people believe that the next baseline for mobile broadband peak downlink data speed will be 21 Mbps HSPA+.

There was little difference between respondent groups (operators, suppliers, others) as the majority in each group selected 21 Mbps as the most likely. Most agreed that the new baseline of 21 Mbps peak downlink will be reached by 2010 due to it being reasonably cost effective and straightforward to achieve, and is thus seen as the next logically evolutionary step for mobile broadband.

Some respondents said that speed alone is not a sufficiently complete indicator for the user experience. An end-to-end approach is required when considering the user experience, and a Holistic Indicator for Quality of User Experience has been proposed. This holistic indicator would embrace context awareness and the essence of the network capability to deliver services and applications to a mobile user. GSA will consider this aspect further.

The survey also asked for views about when HSPA+ as a technology will become the new benchmark i.e. supporting some HSPA+ features but not necessarily a higher peak data rate, for example, utilizing such features as:

  • Discontinuous Transmission and Reception (for extended battery time)
  • CS Voice over HSPA (increases talk time)
  • Shorter set-up times

The results confirmed that most (59%) believed that this would be reached in 2010, 29% stating it would be 2011, and 12% indicating 2012 or later.

While accepting the majority view is for 21 Mbps as the next benchmark, it will take time to build the terminals market for widespread availability, especially where MIMO is to be implemented, since this will add complexity and cost to devices. Operators may also be unwilling to increase subsidies for such devices. And although 2010 is the timeframe that more than 60% agree on for 21 Mbps, it will be a key challenge for the industry to ensure sufficient terminals in the market by that date, which in the end might be more like 2011/12.

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Tags: gsa  hspa  hspa+  mimo  3gpp  broadband  uplink  downlink  antenna  pace