Speed is still the word in mobile

Vodafone Germany
Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of Vodafone Germany
EC pic

Vodafone Germany this week kicked off its previously announced plan to switch on three-carrier aggregation (3CA) in order to facilitate speeds of “up to” 375 Mbps. In common with its peers across Europe, the mobile network operator (MNO) is still making use of headline speeds to set itself apart from domestic rivals.

MNOs have been playing the speed game since the earliest incarnations of 3G mobile data services -- although it took the arrival of HSPA to really light the touch paper and persuade users that this was something worth having.

As Gösta Lemne, director of business development at Ericsson, told me in a recent interview on the evolution of mobile data services, HSPA was a real “wow” moment that turned 3G into a better experience almost overnight.

Now that 4G is here, and we have long got used to data rates that enable us to watch TV in comfort, stream music, listen to the radio and more, the battle over who-has-the-fastest-rates on offer continues unabated -- and indeed, the pressure to claim ever more eye wateringly fast speeds seems to be greater than ever.

The deployment of 3CA and 4x4 MIMO, and the promise of 4CA and even 5CA, enables MNOs to raise consumer expectations that mobile data speeds will even reach 1 Gbps -- and that’s even before we get to 5G. Vodafone Germany itself has suggested it would offer speeds of "more than 1 Gbps" in selected locations at the end of 2016.

The Vodafone Group has broadly adopted the “Gigabit” strategy as part of efforts to stay ahead in both mobile and fixed services, although Vodafone Germany has been one of the most vocal so far on achieving gigabit speeds in mobile networks. The group's goals for 2020 include the launch of 5G services in Europe and the beginning of a 3G shutdown across its European footprint.

Speed clearly remains an important calling card. But coverage and reliability are still a major problem in this sector -- and will remain so as long as we still have areas with poor or zero 3G or 4G coverage. Playing the speed game is all very well, but equally important is that MNOs in Europe meet their coverage targets on a geographic as well as a population basis.

A1 in Austria is certainly one MNO that is taking this challenge head on: LTE services are now being rolled out in remote mountain huts in the Alps.--Anne