It's been a good year for 3G overall, if you like market growth and tech-religion wars. The year also set the stage for some of 2007's key issues: cheaper handsets, mobile WiMAX and - yes, finally (maybe) - the kickoff of 3G in China
Another year, another slew of rollouts and stats wars in the 3G sector. The GSM Association (GSMA), the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) and the CDMA Development Group (CDG) have been hurling numbers and press releases at each other and the media.
One of the more interesting battles has been over operators crossing technology lines. Telstra's announcement at the end of 2005 that it intended to scrap its CDMA network in favor of W-CDMA - claiming it was more cost-effective - sparked outrage on the part of the CDG. Telstra is still waiting for government approval of the plan, but in the meantime, Hutchison Australia's Orange CDMA network (briefly rebranded as 3 CDMA) was shut down in August this year.
The GSA said in November that 29 CDMA operators had either adopted GSM/W-CDMA in addition to their CDMA networks or - in most cases - as a replacement for CDMA. The CDG, meanwhile, claimed that 'up to 39' GSM cellcos had either deployed cdma2000 1x or were planning to do so (although not at the expense of existing GSM systems, a fact the CDG didn't refute but didn't call attention to in its press release).
The CDG also crowed over the effects of mobile number portability on Japan's mobile market. In November, the first full month after MNP rules were enacted, 1x EV-DO operator KDDI accounted for 82% of total net subscriber adds, while NTT DoCoMo actually lost more subscribers than it gained for the first time in memory.
And you thought the religious wars were over.
Whatever. At the end of the day, it's been a decent showing for 3G in 2006, according to the latest figures from the CDG, GSMA and 3G Today. W-CDMA subscriber numbers have grown from 49 million worldwide at the end of 2005 to 83.6 million as of October 31, 2006. 1x EV-DO subscribers have gone from 26.6 million to 44.4 million in the same time period.
However, the real show-stopper has been the commercial arrival of HSDPA and EV-DO Rev A, both of which take GSM and CDMA to the next level in terms of data speeds. Arguably HSDPA has been the more successful of the two, with 89 commercial launches as of December, compared to just two EV-DO Rev A systems going live. Not too bad for a technology with no handsets and terminals limited mainly to PC cards for now.
That said, both HSDPA and Rev A are in the interesting position of serving as a wide-area mobile broadband solution well ahead of the first commercial launches for that other anytime/anywhere mobile broadband technology, mobile WiMAX.
Which brings us to the other tech debate that could define the 3G space in 2007: to what extent will 3G and mobile WiMAX (802.16e) co-exist‾