February 25, 2009

6 Min Read
MWC is quieter, but major noise surrounds mobile broadband

By Paul Lambert

The Mobile World Congress was noticeably quieter this year but nonetheless produced a number of announcements that should increase the already considerable momentum behind mobile broadband.

What was significant, and encouraging, was a theme of companies forming partnerships. Although commercial gain is obviously the main impetus behind these partnerships, they should also have the desired effect of accelerating the take-up of mobile broadband services.

Vodafone and HSPA+

Perhaps the most significant announcement was the one signaling Vodafone’s tacit commitment to HSPA+. It is significant because it suggests that the operator will not wait until LTE is available before it undertakes network upgrades that will result in clear performance enhancements.

The company told Informa Telecoms & Media that it was “very interested” in both versions of HSPA+, 64QAM and MIMO (multiple input/multiple output), and that it was trialing both so it could assess the business cases for them. Vodafone said it was interested in both versions because they could offer clear performance improvements on HSPA and require less capital than it would take to build a new network, such as LTE.

Although it’s unclear what effect the upgrading of networks to provide extra capacity, for instance in urban centers, would have on Vodafone’s LTE plans, it is clear that the operator is seeing take-up of mobile broadband that is widespread enough to necessitate upgrading networks in the near term.

Vodafone says HSPA+ is capable of download speeds of more than 20Mbps using MIMO.

Vodafone is working with device vendors on trialing, testing and validating compatible devices before a planned commercial launch: The 64QAM and MIMO features require new HSPA+ mobile broadband devices. Vodafone said it intends to work on dual-carrier HSPA, which uses the aggregation of two adjacent radio channels.

Vodafone conducted the HSPA+ MIMO tests on the network of Vodafone Spain, using technology supplied by Ericsson, Huawei and Qualcomm.

The trials follow the completion in January of trials of HSPA+ 64QAM technology on Vodafone’s Spanish network, which demonstrated actual peak data-download rates of up to 16Mbps. Vodafone said the technology is particularly suitable for suburban and rural locations.

In the latest trial, Vodafone used MIMO technology, which uses two antennas in the handset and two in the base station to split radio signals into two separate streams, in an effort to enhance network capacity.

According to Vodafone, the operator soon plans to trial HSPA+ 64QAM-technology data connections with peak rates of up to 21Mbps using HSPA+ MIMO. Vodafone estimates that, using the new broadband offering, subscribers will be able to download a typical video file at more than 13Mbps under good conditions and at more than 4Mbps across a full range of typical cell locations, including urban environments. Should trials prove successful, Vodafone intends to launch the service in selected markets in 2009.

Vodafone has been a vocal supporter of MIMO, though some in the industry remain skeptical, saying the technology offers little that is different from existing standards.

Major companies underline support for LTE-TDD

During MWC, China Mobile, Vodafone and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of US-based Verizon Communications and Vodafone, said they have successfully demonstrated the time-division version of LTE (TD-LTE) in laboratory conditions as part of three-way trials of LTE.

This is significant, because it brings China Mobile firmly into the LTE camp, even though it has to roll out TD-SCDMA, rather than WCDMA, as part of the Chinese government’s recent industry restructuring.

The operators said the TD-LTE portion of the trials, involving seven vendors, will progress to full field trials, to be conducted in China, India and Europe in 2H09.

According to the operators, the availability of a converged LTE FDD and TD-LTE system will enable LTE to work with both paired and unpaired spectrum and will increase the likelihood of interoperability between networks from different operators.

LTE FDD (frequency-division duplex) trials are progressing as planned and are now well into the final field-trial stages, according to the operators, who said that peak download speeds of 50-60Mbps using 10MHz bandwidth have been demonstrated. The field trials will also be introduced for the TD-LTE trials and use multiple base stations and devices.

In addition to the initial results, China Mobile, Vodafone and Verizon Wireless announced that ST-Ericsson, Qualcomm and other chipset makers are developing equipment capable of supporting both FDD and TDD versions of LTE in a single device.

The trials are a step toward the goal of developing a single device capable of operating on TD-LTE technology in the case of unpaired spectrum or LTE FDD technology in the case of paired spectrum.

The joint announcement by the three operators followed Verizon Wireless’ stated aim of leading the way in the deployment of LTE in the US, revealed by Verizon Communications Executive Vice President and CTO Dick Lynch at the MWC.

Other partnerships

Other mobile broadband partnerships at MWC included a three-year deal between France Telecom unit Orange and Hewlett-Packard to co-distribute and market consumer notebooks and HP Mini devices with mobile or fixed broadband access.

Japanese vendor Sony Electronics said it will embed Qualcomm’s Gobi mobile Internet technology in its Vaio notebook-PC lines. Gobi offers notebook users high-speed connection to the Internet via 3G cellular connectivity. Vaio notebooks will initially feature Gobi technology in three ultraportable models: Vaio Z, TT and the new P series.

Social-networking web site MySpace unveiled its optimized mobile portal, which offers user-interface elements for devices with screen sizes at least 176 pixels wide. Additional features include color and the ability to configure e-mail photo uploads. The new portal works on all smartphone platforms active in mobile social networking, including the iPhone, Google Android, Sidekick, Nokia, Palm and BlackBerry, and is available in 13 languages and localized for 29 countries.

Vodafone said it will offer Opera’s Opera Mini mobile web browser on its midrange and low-end devices. Opera Mini will be available in Vodafone’s markets in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa and is aimed at people who may be using the mobile Internet for the first time through a lower-end Java device.

Users will be offered full web-browsing capability on Java mobile devices, an icon-based display, a zoom-in and -out feature that fits the mobile screen and the ability to view video content on selected handsets. Under the global framework agreement, selected Vodafone operating companies will be able to embed the Vodafone version of the Opera Mini browser on Java-based handsets or encourage subscribers to download the application.

All of these announcements is significant because they will see major consumer-electronics companies increase their presence in the mobile broadband sector.

Furthermore, what they will most likely lead to is the emergence of a de facto approach to mobile broadband from a technological standpoint. It’s clear that HSPA and LTE will underpin all mobile broadband efforts, an area set for continued major growth this year and beyond.

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