Mobile telephony and WiMAX vendors may soon find themselves locked in competition for the same customers, according to new analysis by ABI Research.
The GSM world has moved from the typical 40Kbps of GPRS to the 130Kbps of EDGE, and is now moving towards the 384Kbps of UMTS. Though UMTS is supposed to represent the 3G Promised Land for GSM carriers, an upgrade has recently been proposed; High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA). Soon the upcoming 3Mbps HSDPA software upgrade to UMTS, could make cellular a de-facto mobile broadband for voice and data.
On the CDMA side, 1XEV-DO Rev. A has an uplink speed of 1.8 Mbps with 3.1 Mbps downstream, making it possible to send voice packets with header information and not cause degradation of voice quality. Although no U.S. CDMA carrier has announced that it was testing or planning to migrate to Revison A.
Verizon Wireless Chief Technical Officer Dick Lynch said at CTIA Wireless 2004 that it was possible the company would continue on its EV-DO path and perhaps at some point offer a type of voice service over their EV-DO service (above).
Meanwhile, WiMax (below), will also be able to do voice communications through Voice-over-IP. And the next extension of the standard will make it mobile. The result? WiMax also equals mobile broadband for voice and data.
Will these two worlds collide?
“It’s only a matter of time,” says Alan Varghese, ABI Research’s principal analyst of semiconductor research. “HSDPA is an easy software upgrade from existing UMTS architecture, and cellular operators will be well on their way in 2005. WiMax will need brand new networks and infrastructure, so the upfront costs and timelines may be more; but once deployed, WiMAX will offer very high bit rates and the possibility for new entrants to compete either using licensed or unlicensed spectrum.”
ABI Research’s study, “HSDPA – Mobile Broadband” examines the drivers for HSDPA, the deployment schedules of operators, and the timelines and volumes for HSDPA Infrastructure, PC Cards, Handsets, and ICs.
|Network and device||Highest speed we experienced: download||Highest speed we experienced: upload||Vendor-rated average speed||Maximum possible speed|
|EDGE: Nokia 6620 cell phone||82 kbps||32 kbps||100 to 130 kbps||384 kbps|
|UMTS: Motorola A845 cell phone and Novatel Merlin U520 PC Card||291 kbps (phone), 320 kbps (card)||54 kbps||220 to 320 kbps||2 mbps|
Unstrung columnist Gabriel Brown handicaps the field.
For the majority of vendors and service providers that have embarked on metro 802.11 projects, it’s the attraction of low-cost equipment and unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum that motivates efforts to turn wireless LAN into wireless MAN. There are two basic network architectures for metro-zone 802.11:
- Outdoor products that operate with wired backhaul in traditional point-to-multipoint mode and use high-gain, directional antennae to increase coverage. Vendors taking this approach include Cisco, 5G Wireless, Proxim, Radionet Oy, Vivato, and several others.
- Mesh-based systems that use wireless mesh backhaul to extend coverage through the metro zone. Vendors here include BelAir Networks, Firetide Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. Tropos Networks, and Strix Systems Inc.
There are advantages to both architectures, of course, (although wireless mesh sounds a lot more exciting), but the real good news is that regardless of the type of system deployed, the case for metro 802.11 is strengthened by parallel industry developments, including:
- A revolution in hotspot roaming, facilitated by specialist roaming brokers and aggregators (see Hotspot Roaming ‘Required’)
- Wireless VOIP, using soft-clients such as those from Skype (see Mobile Skype: Quality Issues?)
- Convergence, whatever that is (see Wired, Meet Wireless)
- Bundling hotspot access with cell phone and broadband subscriptions (see SBC Announces $1.99 WiFi); and
- The anticipated launch of dual-mode 802.11/cellular handsets by vendors such as Motorola NEC Corp. and Nokia (see Trio Plots Roaming Accord).
Taken individually, these are powerful trends; but combined with extended-coverage, metro-zone 802.11, they might just take the market to the point where public-access WiFi pays for itself, rather than having the coffee (or tea) pick up the check.