EDGE: the forgotten cellphone technology

In the rush to launch 3G cellular networks, one technology that had been touted as a superstar has faded from sight in this country.

In the rush to launch 3G cellular networks, one technology that had been touted as a superstar has faded from sight in this country.

EDGE, which runs at up to 126kbit/s, was to have been the next step up from GPRS, but Vodafone NZ is one of many mobile network operators leapfrogging to the faster wideband CDMA (W-CDMA), which runs at speeds of up to 384kbit/s.

That's not the case everywhere. Lars Svensson, the president of the enterprise division of telco gear maker Ericsson, says some European operators are making use of EDGE in their network planning. "We've spoken to around 20 operators who are deploying EDGE right now."

Svensson says the decision to deploy EDGE is based on a number of factors, but cost is the most important.

"It's simple to deploy for existing GSM networks; it's simply an upgrade to GPRS and doesn't involve buying new spectrum or building a new network."

Svensson admits to being somewhat disappointed with GPRS's real-world speed.

"We'd hoped to see 40-50kbit/s but instead we often see 30kbit/s or so. It's still usable but it's not as fast as we'd hoped." EDGE's promise of 126kbit/s was appealing. "[It] means in the real world you could see 50-60kbit/s, which is faster than many dial-up connections offer and would deliver that bit more for the user."

W-CDMA, however, is what Svensson is happiest with, touting his new cellphone as the "best bloody modem I've ever owned". Svensson regularly uses his drive to the office in Stockholm to clear his email using a text to voice application.

Svensson also sees no conflict between EDGE, W-CDMA and Wi-Fi-based hotspots. The technologies compliment each other rather than compete, he believes.

"I tell incumbent network operators to deploy hotspots themselves. They're reluctant to get into it because they see it competing with their existing networks but they drive traffic to the network, which is what we all want."

Svensson says handsets will emerge in the next year or so that combine wireless LAN capabilities with W-CDMA. These will allow mobile users to automatically switch to the faster service where it is available.

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