Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BlackBerry's Bold Move to HSDPA

Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry wireless devices, is introducing a new model called "Bold." Some of its bold features include a higher resolution display, 1 GB on-board storage memory, 624 MHz processor, and 2 Megapixel digital camera. But its boldest move is in its wireless connectivity. It has blown past the common EDGE data services in support of tri-band HSDPA plus Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g. No longer is email going to be enough for enterprise users. Now it's desktop-style Web browsing and streaming video.

A related story that's buzzing in the media is that the Apple iPhone is selling out in places without apparent restocking. The best guesses are that Apple wants to unload current stock before the arrival of the new improved iPhone with, you guessed it, HSDPA cellular broadband.

So, what is HSDPA and why is it the big news instead of cool looking phone designs? HSDPA implementation is a move toward a faster mobile Internet to support higher bandwidth applications. Not mentioned as much is that it is also a way to nip WiMAX in the bud before it takes over as the mobile broadband standard. Within the last week, Sprint and Clearwire's struggling WiMAX effort got bankrolled by a consortium that includes Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

AT&T certainly can't sit still if it intends to be a wireless powerhouse. Indeed, it has been upgrading its cellular network from EDGE technology that barely qualifies as broadband with download speeds of around 100 to 200 kbps. The replacement is HSDPA which stands for High Speed Download Packet Access. HSDPA tops out at 14,400 kbps or over 14 Mbps. That's faster than most Cable broadband services and even many business wireline Internet connections.

The BlackBerry Bold, the Apple iPhone and other smartphones have included Wi-Fi access capability as a way to access the Internet and company networks in areas where cellular service is spotty. A better reason is to get decent access speeds when you just can't stand the poky performance of over the air data services. With the upgrade to HSDPA, it's likely that the WiFi capability is going to get less of a workout. The availability of broadband on the go is just too appealing.

HSDPA is a data transmission technology unique to GSM cellular networks. In the U.S., AT&T is the major network using GSM. But the "G" in GSM means global. People don't just buy GSM phones because they like AT&T service. They also like the ability to use their phones overseas, especially on business travel. T-Mobile is the other major network using GSM in the U.S.

The other two major carriers, Sprint and Verizon, are based on CDMA instead of GSM. They are both digital cellular services, but are technically incompatible. Your phone is either CDMA or GSM, but unlikely to work on both. Sprint and Verizon have been aggressive about rolling out their own wireless broadband data services known as EVDO. The Rev A version of EVDO has a download burst speed of 3.1 Mbps, with an upgrade to speeds similar to HSDPA in the upcoming Rev B.

RIM has upgraded the color display on the BlackBerry Bold to be a half-VGA with resolution of 480x320 pixels. This is similar to the resolution of the iPhone, but not physically as large. Instead, the Bold uses the lower portion of its stylish case for a full QWERTY keyboard. But the high resolution display and high speed wireless data connection underscore that the importance of text is going to be increasingly augmented by streaming video in the corporate environment.

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