Mobile data services are priced competitively against other broadband services in SA and compare favourably with equivalent overseas offerings, says Robert Wuestenenk, senior manager for broadband networks at Ericsson.
A 3G/HSDPA service with a limit of 1 gigabyte of data downloaded and the same speeds costs about R350 a month in SA, compared with the equivalent of about R370 in the US, R400 in the UK and R425 in Singapore, although it is a lot cheaper in Australia at R150 a month.
He says the technology infrastructure at the core of the cellular networks is getting more robust and operators are putting up more base stations to provide greater coverage.
There is therefore less chance of the service being interrupted, Wuestenenk says.
With the next version of HSDPA, operators will be offering 3,6 megabits a second (mbps) download and 384 kilobits (kbps) upload speeds. From there they will move to high-speed uplink packet access (HSUPA), offering speeds up to 7,2mbps download and 1,4mbps upload.
At the next level the technology will simply be referred to as high speed packet access (HSPA) and offer 14mbps download and 1,4mbps upload speeds.
All these technologies are already available to the cellular operators, but it will take time for them to upgrade their networks and introduce new services around then, he says.
Towards the end of 2008, HSDPA+ will offer up to 28mbps download and 5,8mbps upload speeds, and in the second half of 2009, HSDPA++ will offer 42 mbps download and 12 mbps upload speeds. In the same year long-tern evolution (LTE) technology will push mobile data throughput to 100 mbps download and 50 mbps upload speeds and take the networks from 3G to 4G technology.
These new technologies will require more base stations, because the faster the speed the shorter the distance the signal will travel, he says. “There is always a payoff between speed versus distance due to the physical aspects of wireless.”
The same applies to copper wire, which will carry data up to 3km at speeds of 2mbps, but only carry it half the distance at 8mbps.
A new technology, Mimo (multiple input multiple output), increases speeds to 100 mbps by combining wireless signals. It allows more data to travel across the same frequency, making better use of spectrum.
Wuestenenk says suppliers are divided into two camps as to whether LTE or WiMAX will become the future wireless standard.
Another broadband technology in the pipeline is Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON), which will provide high-speed fibre cable to the home at 100 mbps over distances up to 20km, and will be available in two to three years time, Wuestenenk says.