The HSPA PR machine heats up as WiMAX heats up

As I recently noted, WiMAX is pulling into the reality station. As such, I suspect we'll see some major opponents step up the public-relations effort to label WiMAX as simply hype. Recently, the GSM Association reminded the industry that HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) is here today.

David Pringle, spokesman for the GSMA, recently told Network World that while WiMAX has received a great deal of attention, the technology's working models still can't outperform HSPA's current technology, which can download data at 7 Mbps.

"We're close to developing HSPA networks that will reach speeds of 14Mbps," he said. "You don't see any early WiMAX network performing that fast. A WiMAX provider would have to build a very dense network to outperform HSPA." (Also, see the GSMA's study about HSPA's momentum in today's Spotlight story).

Ericsson, the only major infrastructure vendor to keep out of the WiMAX market, has the same view. A white paper issued earlier this year spells out what Ericsson calls HSPA's advantages over WiMAX. As an executive from the company emailed me recently: WiMAX's "claims are not really substantiated and we now see that WiMAX is just another 3G technology, only that it is some years after HSPA."

For sure, pushing HSPA is smart positioning strategy given the fact that LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology, the "4G" path to HSPA, is lagging WiMAX by about two years. Ericsson, the world's largest infrastructure supplier, has been working to accelerate the adoption of HSPA before WiMAX shows up in force.

Ericsson today introduced infrastructure and device platforms for WCDMA/HSPA in the 2.6 GHz frequency band, where new licenses for wireless broadband services are becoming available globally. Most view that band along with the 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz as bands ripe for WiMAX growth. Recently, the vendor announced its first HSPA module for laptops and other client devices, aiming for 50 percent of notebook computers to adopt HSPA modules by 2011. In India, where WiMAX is supposed to make some significant inroads, Ericsson launched an initiative to introduce the benefits of HSPA technology in rural India and connect communities to high-speed Internet services. Last month, Ericsson introduced the U335 WCDMA mobile platform designed to enable handset providers to create mass-market HSPA multimedia devices capable of offering services such as mobile TV, mobile video blogging and other services that require both high uplink and downlink data speeds.

But do operators believe HSPA is enough to stave off competition from WiMAX? As ABI Research notes, operators are in a state of flux as they decide which IP-OFDMA path they want to go with for the next generation. Is there justification to make investments now? Vodafone is looking to WiMAX for some of its newer markets such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe; BT and Telecom Italia Mobile are also showing interest. And ABI Research understands that another as yet unnamed "major European mobile operator" is "seriously considering WiMAX."

As Accenture's Shahid Ahmed last week said, 4G is not just about high data speeds, but embracing a new business model revolving around open access. It appears that model works best in an IP-OFDMA environment given the fact that non-subsidized electronics devices are a key element. WiMAX is designed from the start with that business model in mind. I suspect, however, that many operators will closely watch Sprint Nextel's foray into this open-access environment with its WiMAX deployments in the U.S. to see how fast open access catches on.-Lynnette