Operators have always looked to the relatively low cost of wireless to address underserved broadband communities, but for cellcos, that has meant investing in an additional technology such as Wimax.
There has been much talk of using HSPA for top-speed fixed access, and carriers like O2 and 3 in the UK market their 3G networks as home broadband options. However, HSPA has been seen as a 'last resort' solution for true home broadband - until now, when several trials are kicking off, in countries where expectations of speed and quality of service will be high.
The latest comes from Vodafone Spain, which is conducting tests in the town of San Quirze del Valles, near Barcelona, with a view to assessing HSPA as an alternative to DSL.
The significance of this test, and similar trials by Telstra and various 3 units, is that HSPA is being trialled in a community fully served by wired broadband. This means Vodafone is investigating whether the 3G technology could hold its own against DSL or cable, rather than being a 'best effort' offering for communities that have no other choice.
Success could be significant for the cellco, and others that do not have a wireline parent. Vodafone once touted the benefits of running fixed and mobile services over a single cellular network but the exploding usage of broadband connections has made HSPA look inadequate for the task, leaving Wimax the best option for true wireless broadband, and one Vodafone has used in a few markets such as Malta.
But Wimax requires additional spectrum and investment for a carrier already struggling to see real ROI from 3G, so Vodafone is now hopeful that the latest upgrades to HSPA will make it more viable as a fixed technology.
The system is evolving rapidly - Telstra is the first carrier to deploy a 42 Mbps system with dual carriers, and the addition of MIMO smart antennas improves cell coverage and quality of service. At last week's Mobile World Congress, Ericsson demonstrated a future iteration with 84 Mbps peak download, and Huawei topped it with a 112 Mbps demo and promises of 300 Mbps.
These results, however, will always be mitigated by the amount and frequency of spectrum the carrier holds, and it is open to question whether cellcos' capacity - already stretched by mobile broadband - will be adequate for fixed services in developed economies.
Vodafone Spain will use the HSPA connection as the backhaul for a Wi-Fi router, which will then support multiple devices round the home. The operator will provide over 100 households with HSPA modems and Wi-Fi access points, in a six-month pilot.
The carrier says it has three main objectives for the project - to assess the level of customer satisfaction with wireless broadband compared to fixed lines; to study real world downlink and uplink speeds and download volumes; and to examine the level of service and capacity a wireless network would need to offer fixed services in a mid-sized city like San Quirze.
Source: Rethink Wireless