Ericsson to Boost the H in HSPA

With the mobile industry looking toward WiMax and LTE (Long-Term Evolution) for faster data connections, LM Ericsson next week will demonstrate a system that could be an in-between step for many carriers around the world.

The Swedish telecommunications giant will use the CTIA Wireless trade show in Las Vegas to show off what it calls HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) Evolution, the next step up in speed from HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access). The network can deliver 42M bps (bits per second) from each cellular base station, shared among individual users.

Two watershed technologies are coming for high-speed mobile data, in the form of WiMax and LTE, both of which leap ahead of 3G with a new technology, OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing Access). Both are also fully IP (Internet Protocol) networks. The mobile form of WiMax is starting to emerge in commercial deployments, but LTE is not expected to be widely rolled out until 2010 or later.

HSPA Evolution brings forward two technologies that will be in LTE. It features MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) antenna technology with two antennas at both the transmitter and receiver, and uses the same modulation scheme as LTE, called 64 QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation). It's based on a formal standard, called HSPA+, from the governing body of HSPA. But how much it improves upon the existing HSUPA is open to debate.

Actual speeds for each user will depend on handsets and on the usual coverage factors, but an HSPA Evolution network should allow carriers to deliver twice the speed of the current HSUPA technology, said Jeanette Fridberg, director of marketing for radio access networks at Ericsson. The company expects to deliver its gear commercially by the end of this year, though handsets that take advantage of it probably won't arrive until a year from now, she said.

Yankee Group analyst Phil Marshall said the standard is overshadowed by the gains LTE will deliver.

"I don't think there's much place for HSPA+ in the market, other than for those service providers that hit significant capacity constraints in their radio networks within the next 18 months or so," Marshall said. The capital expenditure would be comparable to LTE if an operator's gear were more than six months old, and LTE delivers other benefits, such as lower latency, he said. Motorola does not plan to sell HSPA+ infrastructure, advising its customers go directly to LTE. The latest technology is like a point upgrade rather than a true next generation, according to Stephane Daeuble, global marketing manager for LTE at Motorola.

Ericsson's Fridberg said the move is just a software and antenna upgrade, even for older HSPA networks, and that its HSPA Evolution could benefit users for years while LTE networks are slowly rolled out.

Alcatel-Lucent is also embracing HSPA+. It won't demonstrate it at CTIA but is in talks with several customers and expects them to deploy the gear starting early next year, said Sandip Mukerjee, vice president of wireless portfolio and strategy. With the growing use of bandwidth-hungry services, especially video and rich social-networking applications, many mobile operators will face a bandwidth crunch soon, he said.

"Anybody who has deployed (earlier HSPA networks) should be looking seriously at this technology," Mukerjee said. "There is a continuing demand and associated willingness to pay for increased bandwidth." He declined to forecast how much more speed HSPA+ would deliver, but called it "an appreciable quality-of-experience leap" over current technologies.