States Take the Initiative

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2005-05-06 Print this article Print

And what Spirent reports this year is that HSDPA is rolling out first in the States, with Europe six months to a year behind, and much slower. The reasons are many, but one of the most striking is what Spirent is calling the "Verizon effect"—the adoption of rigorous testing of handsets by the operator, rather than the conformance authorities.
The situation is pretty grim if you believe Spirent (and I have learned to do so, the hard way!)—and to quote Nigel Wright, director of applications engineering: "We have seen of the order of 6-7 dB difference from best versus worst behavior in fringe reception."
Exactly what does this mean? According to Wright, it means that one phone will be picking up a signal 6 dB stronger than another, just when it causes the most difficulty. That, pretty much, is the difference between "a good signal" and "no service." The problem is basically down to the fact that (in Europe, anyway) the authorities picked the 2.1GHz spectrum for WCDMA. Its an awful choice, because at that frequency, a weak signal pretty much stops dead when it hits a building wall. The reasons for choosing this wavelength were political, not technical. A far better choice would have been around 800/900MHz or even down around 450MHz—both spectra which are now coming to be available, but were not going to be free in 2002, when politics said 3G should be going live. Around those levels, in-building penetration is excellent. At 2.1GHz, it is negligible unless youre really close to a really strong base station signal. And crucially, as long as there arent many other 3G users in the cell: when numbers go up, the background noise goes up. And performance goes down. What 3G users are finding is that they can get a signal and make a call, but only if they stand still. Out in the street, it works quite well, of course; but we all know how easy it isnt to make a call in busy traffic. In any large city, youll see people wincing and ducking into doorways so they can hear what the caller is trying to say. If theyre 3G users, youll see them suddenly taking the phone away from their ear, staring angrily at the display, and shutting it down—because from four bars in the street, the display is now showing "no signal." What Verizon has been doing, according to Spirent, is devising tests for terminals that show up fringe-reception failures. And, taking their lead from the way Verizon customers are responding to this, European operators too are now saying: "It does not matter if your smart new phone meets conformance tests. It has to pass our own standards, or we wont touch it." Click here to read more insight from Guy Kewney on mobile e-mail. And not before time, either: public disillusionment with 3G is far greater than you would guess from the statistics. My prediction: 3G phone charges are going to have to drop, enormously, in the next six months, as user numbers go up. And (as Ill try to explain next week) the beneficiary will be mobile data users. Contributing columnist Guy Kewney has been irritating the complacent in high tech since 1974. Previously with PC Mag UK and ZDNet UK, Guy helped found InfoWorld, Personal Computer World, MicroScope, PC Dealer, AFAICS Research and NewsWireless. And he only commits one blog—forgiveable, surely? Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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