LTE hyped as answer to data traffic limits, while HSPA carries the traffic

The appetite for mobile data would appear to be unstoppable, with recent statistics indicating that October set a new benchmark for the growth of mobile data traffic worldwide.

While this will spur infrastructure vendors to promote the capabilities of LTE--or, dare I say, hype, there are increasing rumours that operators are already failing in some city-centre locations to keep pace with this surging data traffic.

While only a few operators have admitted to capacity problems--largely blaming poorly designed smartphones that demand to chatter constantly with the network, vendors are urging service providers to make the move to LTE, or see their subscribers churn to another provider promising better performance.

But this call to migrate, while potentially very beneficial to vendors, is drowning out the growing success and capability of a stable and widely available technology--HSPA.

Recent forecasts provided by Ovum claim that HSPA connections will reach 1.87 billion by 2015 with a CAGR of 46 per cent. Perhaps of more interest, the market research firm believes the technology's share of high-speed connections will increase from just over 30 per cent in 2009 to nearly 60 per cent in 2015.

Commenting on the quiet progress being made by HSPA, Ovum's Julien Grivolas accepted that LTE continued to grab so much attention that it was easy to ignore the fact that HSPA was a firmly established technology with a mature infrastructure and device ecosystem.

"Its other advantage is that it has a natural upgrade path in the form of enhanced HSPA+, which has been deployed in ever-greater volumes in 2010 and will keep getting better and better. Indeed, HSPA+ and its future enhancements could be sufficient for many operators' needs for the next five years."

While the LTE suppliers will not want this message broadcast too loudly, Grivolas seems happy to cause further upset: "Technically the standards for this [HSPA] technology have the capabilities to rival LTE, such as using dual-carrier technology to aggregate spectrum and provide speeds up to 42Mbit/s. But economically this is not quite as viable at the moment," he said.

Of note, the Australian operator, Telstra, seems set on adopting a hybrid solution that includes HSPA+ for widespread data coverage, and then deploying LTE as a complementary hot spot solution when spectrum is made available.

And perhaps it's this question of spectrum availability and price that will ultimately dictate the widespread commercial success of LTE.

Meanwhile, HSPA (and its evolutions) will continue to carry the vast bulk of data traffic for at least the next five years, maybe more. -Paul