Sunday, October 23, 2005

Article: What you need to know about Cingular's HSDPA service

In the last few months, Cingular rolled out their 3G (3rd Generation) HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) network. HSDPA is an add-on to the UMTS specification and is being deployed on top of it to compete with other 3G services such as EVDO. Providers around the world are switching from 2G networks like GSM and CDMA to 3G, in order to increase the speed for data on cell phones. The Cingular network should support speeds around 400 to 700 Kbps, at least technically. Cingular turned on its HSDPA network on the 18th of October. It's the first network in the US to support it, and one of the first to switch to 3G following Verizon. But there are a few things you should know.

First, in order to benefit from the new network, you need a phone that supports it. And chances are your phone doesn't. For example, Cingular does not expect to be offering phones that support the new network until the first half of 2006. However, it does provide wireless cards for laptops (first one being the Aircard 860). Also, that new network is only in a few select cities. Don't expect to have it in rural towns anytime soon.

The other issue is that these network use a specific frequency. In North America, HSDPA is available on the 850 and 1900 MHz frequencies. This means that the existing 3G phones from Europe do not work on Cingular's network. This also applies to many modems / PC Cards sold currently with the HSDPA logo on them. To complicate things, some Europe networks have decided to use new frequencies for their 3G deployments, such as 2100 MHz. This means there are phones currently used on the North America networks, which say they support 3G, but use the Europe frequencies, so they will not work on Cingular's HSDPA network.

Finally, the issue of speed. Average speeds usually apply to people which are in an unobstructed location, near a tower. This technology has the same problems as older cell phone technologies, where if you have a weaker signal to your phone, the speed will be lower. Network congestion can also be an issue for speed. The 3G deployments around the world is good news, since we'll all soon have high speed mobile devices available, but for now people need to do some research before giving in to what marketing says, especially considering the prices these technologies start at.

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