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Thursday, July 17, 2008

HSUPA stalling?

I've been looking at some of the data on HSUPA deployments, and frankly it's a bit disappointing. There was a news article yesterday quoting Qualcomm saying "This is the year for HSUPA" and "it's now being included as standard for chipsets aimed at 'mid range' devices and by the end of the year will appear as standard on low end phones as well".

To me, that last comment rang alarm bells - it sounds like a marketing pitch "Hey, everyone! HSUPA's the next must-have! Get involved! No, really, everyone's gonna be doing it! Honest....."

Normally that sort of pitch is made when something isn't happening. "Standard on low end phones"...er, well given that WCDMA still isn't standard on low-end devices, I'd be pretty surprised if the world's $30 handsets suddenly skipped straight over HSDPA and went all the way to full HSUPA from GSM.

In fact, there's still a real dearth of HSUPA phones. Although there are 60-odd devices in total, most are modems, dongles, modules & other non-phone products. There's a handful of Toshiba phones in Japan, and some high-end Windows devices from HTC, I-Mate and a couple of other vendors. There are no high-end Nokias with high-speed uplink yet (including the new N96), the iPhone is HSDPA not HSUPA and so on.

So clearly, there's some level of desperate hyperbole.... but the question is how much? Looking at the GSA's statistics for deployments and "commitments", it seems that the wheels have come off the "Uplink" bandwagon a bit. While 51 HSUPA networks have launched, there's only another 17 known to be "committed". Yes, the number of live networks has almost doubled in 6 months, but the future rollout schedule hasn't kept pace. Looking back at some statistics for HSDPA from 2006, when it reached 50 deployments, there was a pipeline of 60+ on the way.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of HSUPA. It's one of the things that makes VoIPo3G much more practical. But I suspect that it's that, coupled with the risks of P2P traffic or people running PC's as web servers over the mobile network, that are leading operators to avoid specifying UPA as a must-have. They'd rather have faster generations of HSDPA, or support for different frequency bands like 900MHz. Despite some of the blather about social networking, there isn't really a killer revenue-generating app for HSUPA services outside of a few road warriors and photographers needing to upload big image & presentation files from PCs. I'm not convinced operators really want to host billions of uncompressed 5MP cameraphone images on their networks, even if the radio network can support it.

I have a suspicion that most operators will probably wait for HSPA+ / HSPA-Evolved before upgrading their uplink, particular for handset users. There will be a slow creep of HSUPA into 3G dongle modems for those markets where shipments have exploded, and you'll start see smartphones gradually coming into the market at end-2008, but you can forget about truly massmarket HSUPA phones until late 2009 or early 2010.


Subra said...

With the right apps and user interface, wouldn't ALL users love to background upload their 2 megapixel (e.g. iphone ) pictures over the air ? Rather than have them decay inside the phone ?

Note this doesn't even need HSUPA although HSUPA will certainly make it zippier and more spectrally-efficient.

At least in the US, what seems to be holding people back from this is: (a) expensive prices (b) cumbersome user interfaces (c) lack of awareness

Looks like the carriers are missing out on the potential of the uplink.

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Subra

It depends. If the networks enabled fast upload of 5MP images (the ones on my phone are about 1.5MBytes each), for free, to the user's own PC, without hurting battery life, then maybe.

But to be honest, most photos taken with phones don't "decay", but are just shown to friends on the phone's screen itself.

Or if the user wants to "free" the pictures, it's much easier to transfer them to a PC with a micro-SD or M2 card. I bought a 4GByte M2 card yesterday for £25 / $50 - memory has a faster price curve than network capacity.

You certainly wouldn't want to pay to put your photos decaying on an operator portal, which you lost access to when you churn - that would be the worst-case scenario for the user.


Mo Yan said...

Some facts :

1. The predominant service traffic
pattern is *downstream* . As it is for
DSL, so it is for mobile comms.

2. HSUPA is more complex to implement
than HSDPA. You have all the
nastiness of radio link diversity
(combining) etc that HSDPA does not

And your comment on VoIP over HSPA
is incorrect. VoIP over HSPA
has an inherent problem in that HSPA
was intended for *best efforts*
increases in bit rate (it is not
Qos-aware) . As I worked on a systems
study for a vendor who was looking
at providing VoIP over HSPA, I am
quite familiar with the issues
(capacity, NE latency, QoS - MOS etc,
C-plane overheads - SIP etc) .

Dean Bubley said...


I was referring to non-QoS optimised VoIP over HSPA. Yes, the current variants of HSPA are not yet optimised for full CS-replacement VoIP. I'm not expecting outright replacement of circuit telephony for a long time.

But there are plenty of use cases for best-efforts VoIPo3G, either from carriers or third-parties.

HSPA provides good-enough capacity & latency for VoIP for both paid and free services. The main obstacle is probably power consumption on the device, and integration with applications like phonebook & SMS.

Whether the system vendors are in a position to directly support it is questionable - it may be provided more as an over-the-top Internet application instead. That said, I think there is a very good argument for VoIP-over-HSPA on femtocells, which could hook straight into the broadband NGN VoIP platform.