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The future of mobile data

Dec 12, 20052 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* What’s next from the mobile operators?

Will continued one-upmanship in basic speeds and feeds constitute the future of wireless data offerings? Doubtful.

For now, though – until network operator margins plunge into make-it-or-break-it territory – “buildout” appears to be the name of the game. The most recent development: Cingular Wireless’ long-anticipated High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)-based mobile service is officially off the ground in 52 communities across the country.

Last week, Cingular said that its 400Kbps to 700Kbps BroadbandConnect service is now available to 35 million people and that the carrier will “continue to extend the network rapidly next year.”

Launch of the company’s latest-generation 3G mobile service is the latest development in the race to get faster speeds and wider coverage to the mobile user community. The Cingular move follows on the heels of rival Sprint Nextel’s expansion last month of its Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) service, which runs at similar speeds and now covers about 140 major markets. Leading the domestic pack, Verizon Wireless’ competing EV-DO network service covers about 170 markets. 

For now, these carriers’ all-u-can-eat data packages sit at $59.95 per month, courtesy of Verizon, which dropped the $79.95 bar in September by 25%, forcing competitors to follow. Verizon currently has the advantage of the largest high-speed domestic footprint with backward compatibility to its 144Kbps 1XRTT network.

Cingular has, or soon will have, a fairly decent HSDPA nationwide footprint, backward compatibility with all its previous-generation GSM-based networks in the 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands and – drum roll – still carries the big business advantage of international interoperability with GSM-based services.

Once these networks have more or less caught up to one another on coverage and speed, then what? The next few years should reveal whether the traditional wireless operators are true service providers or merely bit transporters.

The fixed-mobile convergence movement will shift underlying network delivery platforms to IP, making networks smart. When networks get smart, service providers can get creative about building service packages that are sliced and diced in different ways – think, extending your enterprise QoS and security policies out across the mobile network, managing traffic usage based on application type or user, prioritizing VPN traffic….

Will the mobile operators be up to the task? They best be, with margins poised to plummet and fresh competition looming from the likes of 802.16e WiMAX and, potentially, FLASH-OFDM and even municipal Wi-Fi services.