3G Americas: HSPA today, LTE tomorrow

For 3G Americas, the future actually is now.

With Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology still on the horizon but not being implemented on a large scale until 2013 at the earliest, speakers at the 3G Americas Wireless Broadband Technology briefing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday extolled the virtues of the current HSPA network and said there was a lot of room to grow.

Kris Rinne, AT&T's senior vice president for architecture and planning, said there were three reasons there are more than 250 million UMTS/HSPA subscribers worldwide. The network is available in more countries than ever before. There is a variety of devices that work on the network. And there has been a massive proliferation of applications that work on those devices. She cited the fact that since the debut of Apple's iPhone 3G in July, there have been more than 100 million application downloads. 

Rinne also projected that the number of UMTS/HSPA subscribers would reach 315 million by the end of 2008 and would reach 1 billion by 2011. Currently there are 700 HSPA-capable devices on the market today.

Nevertheless, there are challenges ahead for the GSM community, she said. She cited a statistic by Informa Telecoms and Media that projected 1000 percent growth in mobile traffic by 2012, which, she said, will require greater spectrum allocation and network management. One of her architects surmised the situation succinctly and said: "We have to make the plumbing bigger."

Rinne emphasized that the next generation of HSPA, HSPA+ (or, alternatively, HSPA Evolved or Release 7), was essentially a software update that allowed for backward compatibility and the potential for global roaming that could offer download speeds of between 28 and 42 Mbps.

While she touched on LTE, and said it was another entire ecosystem that could be tapped, with theroetical speeds of over 100 Mbps, she reiterated that it was a long way off for wide commercial use, noting that HSPA was first adopted in 2005, but it was not until this year that it was available on more than 50 percent of potential handsets. At this point, what is holding LTE back is not the technology itself, but the necessary infrastructure and devices to support it.