Three quarters of telecoms operators with third-generation (3G) mobile phone networks have agreed to install an upgrade that makes their networks three to five times faster, a survey found on Friday.
The faster version of the 3G networks is called High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and is already commercially available on 14 networks in countries including Austria, Finland, Bulgaria, Germany, Israel, Kuwait, Portugal, South Africa and the United States, the global mobile suppliers association (GSA) said in a market update for the end of March.
The GSA represents vendors of GSM and 3G equipment. The GSA data is broadly in line with estimates from its customers which are united in the GSM Association (GSMA). The GSMA represents the world's mobile telecoms operators which use GSM mobile phone technology, as well as its 3G successor technologies WCDMA and the fastest HSDPA standard.
The GSA said 79 of a total 105 WCDMA networks in 43 countries have been or will be upgraded to HSDPA, an increase of 60 percent in five months.
In ideal circumstances HSDPA networks currently allow mobile phone users to download data at 1 to 3 Megabits per second, equivalent to fixed line broadband speeds. This allows consumers to download a song to their handset in as little as 10 seconds.
Operators are keen for their subscribers to use their 3G networks because the technology can squeeze more phone calls and data traffic in the available radio spectrum, enabling them to serve more customers. They also hope sales from data services will offset falling prices for voice calls.
Subscribers wishing to use the faster service need a new handset or computer data card. Around 25 HSDPA handsets and cards are available or will go on sale in coming months.
GSM, and its faster 3G successors are the dominant mobile phone technology used around the world. Around 1.79 billion mobile phone users around the world are on a GSM network, or 78.4 percent of all mobile users, the GSA said.
The remainder is mostly on the competing CDMA network standard, which is used mainly in the Americas and parts of Asia.
CDMA was invented largely by Qualcomm <QCOM.O>, which also produces almost all of the key chips used in CDMA handsets.
The total number of subscribers on all 3G networks totaled 55 million by March. Mobile phone vendors and chip makers have announced cheaper 3G handsets aimed to boost the uptake of 3G services.