Industry watchers love nothing more than a good old technology war. In the past, we’ve had Token Ring versus Ethernet, GSM versus CDMA and DECT versus CT2. Now, a new technology debate is brewing between HSPA and WiMAX for dominance in the emerging mobile broadband market. But such battles are rarely just about technology, and the mobile broadband debate is no exception.

The GSM world has seen it all before. Over the years, industry commentators have questioned whether investment in GSM-based 3G technology is worthwhile and wondered whether a succession of alternative technologies would render GSM/WCDMA obsolete. In the meantime, GSM/WCDMA operators have been steadily building their 3G businesses – rolling out networks, adding subscribers and delivering ever-enhanced functionality.

Today, the latest commercial releases of HSPA radio networks support download speeds of up to 14.4Mbps – more than a match for most fixed-broadband connections – and they are set to become even faster. GSM/WCDMA radio networks are continuing to evolve to meet growing user demand for mobile-broadband services, through further enhancements in the downlink and uplink, and on to Long Term Evolution.The performance of HSPA and Mobile WiMAX technologies is comparable. Both technologies offer similar peak data rates, spectral efficiency and network complexity. However, Mobile WiMAX requires more cell sites to offer the same coverage and capacity as HSPA. A major hurdle for WiMAX operators will be to overcome the initial high capital expenditure of the radio access network.HSPA is built on the firm foundation of the 3GPP family of standards, and the scale operators get through the established 3G ecosystem makes it very cost-efficient. HSPA can be built out using the existing GSM radio network sites and is a software upgrade of the installed WCDMA networks. Since HSPA devices are also backward compatible with WCDMA and GSM it means users can get nationwide coverage from day one.

By being pitched as a “data play” technology, with voice supported by other radio technologies, WiMAX is perceived as not having to meet regulatory requirements. However, the trend is towards more regulation of VoIP services, especially in areas such as caller ID and location provision for emergency services. WiMAX is unlikely to be exempt from regulatory requirements in the longer term.

HSPA also provides global roaming over GSM/WCDMA networks, as well as wide area coverage within many countries. WCDMA has passed the 150 million subscriber mark and is growing at a rate of 6 million per month. Since Ericsson rolled out the first commercial HSPA system in 2004, more than 150 operators in around 70 countries have launched commercial HSPA services – including major mobile operators such as AT&T, Telstra, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

The Global mobile Suppliers Association reports that HSPA services are commercially available in eight countries in the Americas, 13 countries in Asia Pacific, nine countries in the Middle East/Africa, and 38 countries in Europe. HSPA is commercially available today in 26 of the 27 countries that comprise the European Union.

Juniper Research expects there to be about 1.8 billion broadband subscribers globally by 2012, with about 1.2 billion on mobile networks – with WCDMA/HSPA accounting for nearly 70 percent of mobile-broadband subscribers.

HSPA offers excellent mobility from day one, with over 300 HSPA-enabled devices available on the market – including PC cards, USB modems and modules, laptops with integrated HSPA modules, Fixed Wireless Terminals (wireless routers), phones, PDAs and media players. HSPA terminals have fallback toGSM/GPRS/EDGE/WCDMA, and embedded modems will be available in early 2008.

While WiMAX-certified products were likely to be embedded in notebooks and PC cards during 2007, WiMAX-enabled phones will not appear on the market until 2008. It will be difficult for WiMAX handsets to match the volume and cost structure of current mobile phones – especially as the handsets cross multiple frequencies, meaning multiple radios for roaming. Industry analyst Gartner forecasts that worldwide sales of WiMAX-enabled phones as a proportion of total mobile-phone sales will remain extremely low (below one per cent), at least until 2010.

Deploying any type of cellular system incurs capital costs, no matter which technology is deployed. Because the core network behind WCDMA/HSPA is the same as for GSM, a lot of the investment has already been made. GSM/WCDMA infrastructure is already serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers worldwide – delivering tremendous economies of scale.
There is sometimes a misunderstanding that the WiMAX technology is free from Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues.

In GSM the setting of reasonable accumulated IPR costs has led to a global market with hundreds of chipset and handset vendors. More than 800 million handsets were sold during 2006. By reaching similar IPR agreements in WCDMA/HSPA, products can be offered to customers with very low IPR costs. We believe the same reasonable accumulated rates – at a moderate single-digit level – should also apply to new players in the HSPA and WiMAX arenas.

For WiMAX, it has yet to be seen which players will win large market share, and so their IPR costs are unknown. However, it is unlikely that IPR will provide any differentiator between HSPA and WiMAX.The unprecedented demand for WCDMA/HSPA means additional radio spectrum is going to be critical. It is estimated that by 2010 more traffic will be generated by data services than by voice in mobile networks, yet until about 2015, the only additional internationally agreed spectrum identified for 3G technologies is the IMT-2000 extension band, being 2500-2690 MHz. When allocating new spectrum it will be important to ensure that licensees can leverage on technologies with economies of scale. This will create the right conditions for the licensees to offer affordable broadband services based on a low total cost of ownership for the network and devices.

Ericsson sees HSPA and HSPA Evolved, with downlink speeds of 42Mbps and uplink speeds of 12Mbps, as the natural mobile-broadband technology choice for the near future, with LTE just around the corner to bring us new levels of performance. Technology choices made today will influence operations for many years to come, so while it remains to be seen if WiMAX can offer a viable business case, building on existing HSPA networks represents the fastest way to deliver mobile broadband to the masses.

Source : THIS DAY