As Need For Mobile Speed Grows, 3.5G Networks Boom

There are 58 live HSPA+ wireless broadband networks across the world, with 19 of them launched in the first half of 2010, according to research by Wireless Intelligence. HSPA+ is currently the fastest form of 3G wireless broadband technology, and is generally viewed as the final stop before a migration to Long Term Evolution (LTE). Another 43 carriers are likely to make this upgrade, which would bring the total to over 100 HSPA+ networks.

HSPA+ is an upgrade to the current generation of 3G technologies, and is also known as Evolved HSPA. It can provide downstream connectivity of up to 84 megabits per second (Mbps) and upstream connections of 21 Mbps. While the most common version of HPSA+ (64QAM) has a top theoretical speed of around 21 Mbps, in some cases, phone companies (like Japan’s EMobile) are using different kinds of technology tricks (dual carrier, MIMO) to boost this speed by up to four times.

The HSPA+ upgrades have come at a breathtaking pace. In February 2009, Australia’s Telstra became the first network to go live with the HSPA+ technology. In the US, two large GSM-based service providers, AT&T (s T) and T-Mobile USA are betting on HSPA+ before making the eventual leap to LTE. Neither has introduced their first real HSPA+ phone.

While T-Mobile has started rolling out its network, AT&T is likely to turn on the upgrade by end of 2010. Other large carriers that are likely to launch HSPA+ based networks include SingTel (Singapore), SoftBank (Japan), O2 and E-Plus in Germany.

“The wide deployment of HSPA networks in most markets will mean that HSPA+ is likely to be the fastest network available to most subscribers for several years to come, especially as most operators are still waiting for LTE spectrum to be auctioned and allocated,” noted Matt Ablott, analyst with Wireless Intelligence.

This is essential, as the consumer demand for data is growing worldwide. Ericsson (s eric) noted today that mobile broadband currently accounts for only 10 percent of total mobile subscriptions, but an increasing majority of the traffic. Ericsson estimates that global mobile data has nearly tripled in the last year, growing more than 10 times faster than voice to reach 225,000 terabytes per month.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): The Internet of Things: What It Is, Why It Matters