Telecom has launched its answer to Vodafone's HSDPA, the EV-DO Rev A 3G data networking upgrade, as implemented by Alcatel Lucent for US$10 million / NZ$ 15 million. Presently, the service is only available in Auckland's CBD, with the rest of country getting coverage throughout the first half of 2007.
Gary Rogers, mobile data solutions manager at Telecom New Zealand, points to the improvements in the latency or packet delay as a key improvement to the user experience. Most of the reduced latency, Rogers says, stems from improvements made in the communication between the device and the cell site.
What are the improvements then? Testing at Telecom's Hereford St offices in Auckland, it was possible to reach up to 2.6Mbit/s for downloads, and 500-600kbits/ for uploads. Latency on pings and traceroutes to hosts in New Zealand was 50-70ms. All in all, very impressive for cellular broadband. The caveat here is of course that the network is very new and lightly loaded still.
In comparison, testing with Telecom's existing EV-DO Rev 0 network shows that up to 1.1Mbit/s downloads are possible when the signal strength is good; this translates to 4-500kbit/s under real-life circumstances. Upload speeds are considerably lower at 120kbit/s in most cases, and the latency is in the low triple-digits at around 130-160ms.
Vodafone HSDPA on the other hand will quite easily reach over 1Mbit/s downloads, and 300kbit/s uploads, with 110-130ms latency (tested with a Vodem in Auckland; results may vary depending on geographic location).
The theoretical maximum speed for HSDPA is said to be 3.6Mbit/s, with 384kbit/s uploads; Rev 0: 2.1Mbit/s down, 155kbit/s up; Rev A: 3.1Mbit/s down, 1.8Mbit/s up. However, Telecom is quite conservative with its speed promises for both Rev 0 and Rev A, saying users can expect 800kbit/s down and 300kbit/s up for the latter.
When you drop out of Rev A coverage, devices fall back to CDMA 2000 1xRTT.
The service is launching with a single device, the Sierra Wireless AC 595 PCMCIA Type II card that sells for NZ$595 including GST on open term contracts, and is bundled with the one-year and longer term contract plans. The card supports Windows 2000 and XP at the moment, with Windows Vista and Apple Mac OS X drivers scheduled for January 2007.
Telecom doesn't currently have a device roadmap ready, but a PR representative says there are Vodem-like USB devices in the offing, laptops with built-in Rev A support and also Express Cards. At this stage, no Rev A handsets were announced. Rev A has otherwise the ability to do video calling, a feature that Vodafone has long had on its UMTS network and which it is pushing strongly at the moment.
For the time being, Telecom is aiming the Rev A upgrade mainly at business customers. The service and Mobile Broadband Rev A card is priced the same as the current Rev 0 variants, with no changes to the data plans as of yet. Telecom would not say at this stage if it intends to up the data caps for the faster service, or bundle Rev A with fixed-line broadband.