New research by GSA - The Global mobile Suppliers Association, on the evolution of 3G mobile networks confirms the huge progress made in 2006, ushering in a new era of mobile broadband enabled by WCDMA-HSDPA and GSM/EDGE.
146 WCDMA network operators are now delivering commercial services to over 100 million subscribers in 67 countries on all continents. Forty-six networks launched in 2006. WCDMA has the highest growth rate of any mobile technology, and is the most successful in the marketplace, achieving 4 million average monthly additions throughout 2006.
The pace of adoption of High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) has been truly remarkable. HSDPA is the first evolution of WCDMA, delivering advanced mobile multimedia services with typical user throughputs of 800 kbps to 3.0 Mbps (according to individual network and device capabilities). There are now 142 operators committed to deploy HSDPA in 65 countries, of which 96 networks have already launched commercial services, ensuring the full mobile broadband experience. It means that two-thirds of commercial WCDMA operators have also launched HSDPA.
92 HSDPA networks entered commercial service during 2006. HSDPA is now commercially available in 53 countries, including 25 of the 27 countries which make up the European Union, as well as in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. GSA also confirms that a growing number of HSDPA networks support 3.6Mbps (peak) data as at least 29 networks had launched or were upgrading to 3.6Mbps, with further increases planned as part of the evolution to 14.4Mbps peak.
GSA also highlights the important role of GSM/EDGE, which is an enhancement of GPRS delivering higher data rates per subscriber (typically 120 - 160 Kbps) or adding capacity for voice service. EDGE gives operators the capability to support 3G mobile services. Across 136 countries, 258 of the worldwide total of 390 commercial GPRS networks (i.e. two-thirds) have committed to the EDGE enhancement, and 196 networks have commercially launched EDGE in 105 countries. EDGE deployments are spreading fastest in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Europe has 96 EDGE network deployments, followed by the Americas (81), Middle East and Africa (44), and Asia (37).
WCDMA and EDGE are complementary technologies. The majority of WCDMA operators have also deployed EDGE on their GSM/GPRS networks for lower capital expense, optimum flexibility and efficiencies. 96 operators are deploying combined EDGE-WCDMA networks, and 69 WCDMA-EDGE networks are in service. GSA's research also shows that 67 of 142 HSDPA networks in deployment also rely on GSM/EDGE for service continuity and the best experience where HSDPA is not available, e.g. in rural areas. The GSA research confirms 48 of 96 commercial HSDPA operators (i.e. 50%) have also launched GSM/EDGE service on their networks.
The range and availability of user devices is also very positive. GSA research confirms there are over 400 EDGE devices on the market. Over 500 WCDMA-capable user devices have been launched, with more than 200 new models announced in 2006. More than 100 WCDMA devices also support EDGE.
The situation regarding HSDPA is extremely promising with 128 products launched in the market from 39 suppliers, covering all market segments i.e. mobile phones (46 devices), PC datacards/modules (32), notebooks (30), USB modems (8), a dual interface ExpressCard/34 & USB product, wireless routers (10) and one Personal Media Player. At least 50 devices support both HSDPA & GSM/EDGE.