Vodafone and Nokia HSDPA haul in EV-DO lead

, posted: 21-Apr-2006 10:32

Patel with BB8700
Phil Patel showing off the beautiful Blackberry 8700

Mauricio and I saw Vodafone's new High Speed Downlink Packet Access or HSDPA technology in action yesterday in Auckland. Here's Mauricio's report on it.

Although Vodafone pretended it didn't matter, its prestige clearly took a dent when Telecom New Zealand not only launched its 3G service based on an EV-DO data overlay to CDMA well before them, but also beat them in performance tests with it. The worst humiliation for Vodafone happened during Microsoft's annual TechEd conference in Auckland, when Vodafone's marketing manager for data products Fraser King challenged Telecom's data solutions manager Gary Rogers to a "drag race" using UMTS and EV-DO data cards.

Vodafone was soundly beaten in that competition as its UMTS or WCDMA 3G technology simply doesn't have the raw performance of Telecom's Lucent-supplied EV-DO.

I emailed Fraser to see if he was keen on a re-match with Telecom's EV-DO now that he's got the meatier HSDPA to play with, but never heard back from him unfortunately.

Back to the demonstration yesterday: all the caveats that Mauricio pointed out apply, that is, it was a very controlled display with probably just a single HSDPA connection on a localised, lightly loaded cell site, and until Vodafone hands over a data card that I can test in real-life conditions, I'll take the results with a big pinch of salt.

In brief, here's what Phil Patel, Vodafone's director of business markets and Jeremy Foster, head of marketing, showed me:

  • The service will initially launch at 1.8Mbit/s down and 384kbit/s up. Testing against local web, ftp and streaming video servers showed that HSDPA delivers very close to that download speed. I quickly checked on the throughput graph for the data stream, and it was very smooth without any undue peaks and troughs.
  • Latency in the 40-50ms range. Now this addresses a major weakness in the present 3G service, namely the high, 200ms plus latency (the responsiveness of the data connection). With such low latency, you can use the HSDPA service for online gaming. It is in fact better than Telecom's ADSL, which currently has artificially high latency introduced to prevent customers from using Voice over IP on their connections (all with the Commerce Commission and NZ government's blessing).
  • Plenty of devices with HSDPA support from major manufacturers.
Foster with Lenovo T60
Jeremy Foster with a UMTS Lenovo T60

Vodafone is basically challenging Telecom New Zealand heads-on with HSDPA in the broadband arena, and not just for mobile data either. Even though September time-frame for the service release is late, there is a chance it could work. Telecom does not have the backing of device manufacturers like Vodafone does and it hasn't suffered the negative publicity the incumbent has amongst broadband users.

The initial speed isn't perhaps so impressive but 1.8Mbps/384kbps is certainly very usable and better than what most DSL users have. The standard DSL connection speed in NZ is still only 256/128kbps, thanks to Telecom aiming to provide the lowest possible service standard at the highest possible price, as it faces no competition for mass-market broadband. Vodafone will also up the network speed to 3.6Mbit/s, maybe even this year. After HSDPA, there's the uplink boost (HSUPA) arriving in 2007, with up to 5Mbit/s upstream speeds and a corresponding performance bump for the downstream.

What we don't know yet is how Vodafone will price the service to make it attractive for users to switch. It needs to be below NZ$110 or US$70 a month which is the combined cost of Telecom's landline plus entry level DSL service. Phil Patel mentioned Vodafone's recent $49 per 1GB data drive, but that's not going to cut it.  Vodafone needs to think in terms of 10, 20 and 40GB instead or better, if it wants to gain a foothold in the broadband market.

Other related posts:
Nokia upgrades: Symbian Belle for the N8 and MeeGo PR1.2 Harmattan for N9
Yes, this iPod still works
Samsung Galaxy Tab so good Apple wants it banned?

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