Now that Cingular's acquisition of AT&T Wireless is complete, Cingular says it has plans for nationwide 3G: Cingular said it will build a UMTS network across most major markets by the end of 2006. Some markets will also get HSDPA networks. HSDPA, which stands for High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, is a software upgrade that ultimately promises to deliver as fast as 14 Mbps data rates.
In reality, HSDPA probably will actually offer end users several hundred Kbps, said Andy Fuertes, a senior analyst with Visant Strategies. He doesn't expect services like HDSPA from Cingular to have much affect on the future of WiMax. "I don't think this affects WiMax in the sense that WiMax is not mobile and it probably won't be," he said. Fuertes believes that there are enough barriers to a mobile version of WiMax that a mobile version may never actually surface.
But even a portable WiMax solution might have advantages for some users over HSDPA or other cellular data networks partly because of uplink speeds. At peak performance, HSDPA promises 384 Kbps on the uplink. That means in reality the uplink would likely be far less. A slow uplink may be a limiting factor for cellular operators hoping to attract business customers. "The enterprise user is not really an asymmetric user," Fuertes notes. A higher uplink speed could offer an advantage to a competitive WiMax network that enables portability.
The acceptance of the higher speed HSDPA is also unlikely to seriously affect the potential success of the independent vendors such as Flarion, Navini, and IPWireless, said Fuertes. Technologies from those companies tend to work better throughout the entire coverage area of a cell, whereas the data rates of standard cellular data technologies tend to drop off as users move away from the cell site. The vendors also are proving that they can actually deliver the high data rates that they promise. "And it's here. The WiMax fixed version isn't even here," Fuertes noted. Some operators are choosing solutions from the independent vendors because the equipment is available rather than wait for WiMax.
On a bit of a side note, the competition for the fastest and largest data network is definitely on. Shortly after Cingular sent out its announcement about its data network plans, spokesman Ritch Blasi sent around an email to journalists hoping to set the record straight on the current status of the competition. He referred to reports that Cingular trails Verizon and Sprint in deploying 3G (he may be referring to this Reuters story). While he concedes that Verizon has about twice as many EV-DO markets as Cingular has UMTS markets, he notes that Sprint hasn't yet deployed any EV-DO markets. By Blasi's count, Cingular has the fastest national wireless data network, and he's right.