HSPA or LTE? That is the Question

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Today, there actually are not many questions when it comes to the HSPA LTE debacle. The answer is clear, Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the future. Upgrading to LTE technology is part of the natural upgrade process. But, how do they differ? Let’s dig deeper into the HSPA or LTE conversation.

Before we can diversify the technologies, however, we must understand them. So, what is HSPA?

What is HSPA?

HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) is a widely deployed and widely popular mobile broadband technology within the GSM family of technologies. HSPA encompasses both HSDPA (3GPP Release 5) and HSUPA (3GPP Release 6) technologies, when they are deployed on a network. HSPA Evolved (also known as HSPA+ in 3GPP Release 7 and beyond) is also part of the HSPA technology and extends an operator’s investment in the network before the next step to 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE, or 3GPP Release 8 and beyond).  HSPA builds upon third generation (3G) UMTS/WCDMA.

As of October, 2012, there are more than 478 commercial networks with HSPA deployed, in more than 181 countries, with more than 3847 commercial HSPA devices available worldwide from more than 285 suppliers (Source: GSA). HSPA significantly reduces latency and gives carriers an efficient mobile broadband technology that can evolve to HSPA+ to meet the advanced wireless needs of customers. To leverage operator investments in HSPA and enhance the quality of service across networks, 3GPP finalized Release 7 and Release 8, which specify a series of enhancements to create HSPA+. Also, 3GPP examined further specifications in Release 9. HSPA+ employs many of the techniques utilized for LTE. [1]

So, what is LTE?

LTE is the next logical step when it comes to wireless network evolution. It is the new standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals. Based on the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies, LTE will provide increased capacity and speed using a different radio interface together with core network improvements.The standard was developed by the 3GPP, specified in its Release 8 document series, with minor enhancements described in Release 9.

HSPA vs. LTE

HSPA and LTE are not on completely different sides of the spectrum, actually. HSPA+ or Evolved High Speed Packet Access, in fact, has speeds comparable to the newer LTE networks. According to AndroidAuthority, downlink speeds are comparable between the two. On the other hand, LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is considered a “true” 4G network. Theoretical speeds boast downlink speeds of 300Mbps and uploads of 75Mbps. “LTE, which is an IP-based system, is a complete redesign and simplification of 3G network architecture resulting in a marked reduction in transfer latency. Because of this, LTE is not compatible with 2G and 3G networks and thus, functions on an entirely different wireless spectrum. Unfortunately, this means that erecting an LTE network requires it to be built from the ground up. This is one of the main factors behind the delayed launch of  complete 4G LTE networks.”

Now the lines are being drawn as natural upgrades and evolution from HSPA to LTE happen. HSPA did its own upgrading to HSPA+, to meet increased customer demands. LTE, however,  is not the polar change you may imagine. If HSPA+ is the tip of the mountain when it comes to 3G technology, then LTE is simply the foundation for a new mountain. “LTE, also known as 4G, is the most advanced telecommunications technology currently available, and is one that defines a clear path toward future developments, making it the most attractive choice for carriers these days.” [2]

[1] HSPA: High Speed Packet Access, 4G Americas, http://www.4gamericas.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page&sectionid=247

[2] HSPA+ vs LTE: Which one is better? Android Authority, http://www.androidauthority.com/hspa-vs-lte-which-one-is-better-78120/

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