Vodafone will trial the next-generation of mobile networks, HSDPA (High Speed Download Packet Access), early next year with a commercial roll-out mid-year.

HSDPA is expected to deliver a peak wireless download speed of 1.6Mbit/s, increasing to 7Mbit/s over time. Initially, however, most customers will receive closer to 425Kbit/s, which compares to 120Kbit/s delivered through its existing WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) 3G network.

Vodafone also expects to migrate to HSUPA (High Speed Upload Packet Access), which boosts the upload speed, in 2007 or 2008. The company made the announcements during an investors conference yesterday.

HSDPA is the best choice for Vodafone to increase the data rate and capacity on its network, said Tom Geitner, chief technology officer at Vodafone. "HSDPA is not just the natural evolution path of the technology roadmap we're on, but given comparison to other technologies that are equally performing on spectrum efficiency, it's the obvious choice," he said.

For example, EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized), the high-speed technology being deployed by some CDMA network operators, would be a new investment for Vodafone, not an incremental upgrade like HSDPA.

Geitner said that the mobile version of WiMax, which isn't yet available, also didn't meet Vodafone's needs. "To us, it's not an option because it's three to four years later then HSDPA," he said.

Like the launch of WCDMA networks, HSDPA will be initially offered to customers via data cards that can be used in conjunction with computers.

Vodafone hasn’t yet solidified the road map beyond HSDPA/HSUPA. "Clearly 3G will evolve further to more bandwidth and service capabilities," Geitner said. "But it's too early to say where it's going after HSDPA." The OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) air interface, currently employed by WiMax, is often discussed as likely to be the basis of future generation wireless networks. However, since the next significant evolution of the networks isn't likely to happen until around 2009, it's just too soon to know if OFDM will become the air interface of choice for the future, he said.

The investor's event offered specific updates on some of Vodafone’s markets as well as reports on Vodafone’s 3G sales. By the end of August, Vodafone had sold 4.35 million 3G devices, including 400,000 3G/GPRS data cards. Vodafone also reported that it has deployed 50,000 WCDMA base stations around the globe.