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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GSMA toning down rhetoric towards reality

It's always worth double-checking facts. I saw this headline ("Mobile to reach 100Mbps before fixed-line, claims GSMA") and was about to write a pithy response, mentioning awkward facts such as HongKong Broadband Network's residential Symmetric Gigabit service having been available for a year or so.

Then I read the full article, which includes sensible commentary from Dan Warren saying "obviously you never get the top speed and they vary with distance from the base station and interference". Further, the GSMA's recent press release of 50m HSPA subscribers cites "peak data speeds over HSPA are currently between 3.6Mbps and 7.2Mbps. This translates to an end user speed of more than 1Mbps".

In other words, the GSMA is actually being realistic about real-world speeds for mobile broadband, and is in fact now trying not to fall into the trap of equating a cell sector's worth of shared capacity (under ideal radio conditions) with the achievable throughput of individual homes' dedicated wired connections. Good - HSPA is becoming hugely successful anyway, and doesn't need an overdose of cringe-worthy marketing hype.

I can't find any quote which directly suggests the GSMA thinks that it will beat fibre to 100Mbit/s. And in any case, talking about the UK in particular, it's probably worth suggesting that the GSMA might want to have a word with a couple of its members to help this along. O2 and T-Mobile UK currently have legal action pending against Ofcom which is delaying the 2.6GHz spectrum auction. Given the crowded state of the UK mobile market, that frequency band is pretty much the only one in which MNOs are likely to get the requisite 2 x 20MHz channels needed for LTE to run at 100Mbit/s. And it's also worth pointing out that even when that happens, 2.6GHz will struggle with indoor performance in many places, unless helped along by femtocells connected to - wait for it - fixed broadband.


Ram said...


The interesting fact behind the "50m HSPA subscriber" press release is that late last year, the GSMA was predicting that the number of HSPA subscribers is forecast to grow to ~56m by end of year 2008! Definitely qualifies as one of the few instances when hype has overtaken reality!

Dean Bubley said...

Hi Ram

Yes, HSDPA devices are certainly selling quite well, although HSUPA is lagging quite a long way behind.

The interesting question to ask is what the *active user base* of HSPA is. Clearly, pretty much all 3G dongle modem users are using 3.5G regularly. But I'm less certain about the "phone" subscribers. I've seen quite a few HSDPA phones in countries with no network, as well as a suspicion that quite a lot of people switch off 3G to conserve battery, or just never use data connectivity.

That should change over time, though.


Ram said...

Good point, Dean.

I am assuming you are implying that these supposed HSPA subscriber numbers just mean they have HSPA-capable phones. Is it feasible that most of them have not even signed up for data plans? If they have signed up for data plans and are just not using it, the carrier is probably not too unhappy about it.

I fully agree with you that the amount of traffic generated by these phone users is probably very small. It will be interesting to find out how many of these 50 million users are (a) dongle/modem (2) smartphone and (3) feature phones like RAZR? I agree with your assertion that the usage base is probably going to look like a pyramid.