With 3G set for widespread launch in 2004 across Europe, operators are already thinking about the post 3G world and what comes next. According to a new report from mobile industry analysts, ARC Group, the technologies making the largest immediate impact on the post 3G world will be the upgrades to 3.5G and integration of WLAN into wide area networks.
Buoyed by a resurgence in infrastructure spending, industry attention is now focussing on the potential of HSDPA in particular to extend 3G capabilities on the road to an all-IP network and wireless/wireline convergence. Indeed, all the major vendors are now shipping HSDPA-enabled W-CDMA infrastructure and following the lead of NTT DoCoMo, which is planning on launching HSDPA services as early as 2005, all the key players are planning trials for the end of the year.
Against this background, ARC Group forecasts that 3.5G subscribers (including HSDPA, TDD and proprietary technologies like Flash OFDM) will reach 9.1 million subscribers by 2008.
In the run-up to 4G – which is not expected until 2010 at the earliest – operators will look for ways to enhance network performance through evolutionary upgrades in the same way EDGE and 1xRTT have been used in the 2G world. HSDPA is expected to become the most popular of 3.5G technologies due to its support from major vendors like Nokia. HSDPA uses adaptive modulation and a new shared downlink transport channel type to achieve a two-fold increase in air interface capacity and a five-fold increase in data speeds in the downlink direction.
With the advent of WLAN enabled PDA’s and smartphones, there is likely to be more competition from PWLAN providers for broadband mobile revenues. However, rather than compete head on, PWLAN will be subsumed into the network mix, supplementing the 3G/3.5G network for data intensive applications. Despite this, mobile subscribers using PWLAN services over their mobile device will only make up around 50 million users by 2008, less than 20% of total 3G subscribers.
Chris White, Telecoms Consultant at ARC comments: "Too much attention has been paid to how PWLAN will compete with 3G rather than looking at the benefits of combining both network technologies. Further integration of WLAN into the mobile network mix is one of the vital stepping stones to 4G. The so-called access pyramid model, where multiple networks coexist allowing users to seamlessly switch between the most appropriate network for the device and situation, will not substitute the need for a 4G network. At the heart of everything will be the core network, be it 3G or 4G, which will be supplemented by PAN and WLAN offerings and by network upgrades in the medium-term."