Vodafone UK is upgrading its £25 a month Mobile Broadband service by boosting download speeds from 1.4Mbit/s to as much as 7.2Mbit/s over HSDPA (high speed download protocol access). The company is also adding the equivalent HSUPA upload spec to boost uploads to 1.44Mbit/s.

The faster speeds will initially be available only in central London and at certain major airports, and are due to come into service next Monday - the same day that 3 kicks off its 2.8Mbit/s HSDPA offering. Both companies will offer mobile broadband via the Huawei E220 USB modem, while Vodafone will also offer slot-in HSPA in ExpressCard form, with a PCMCIA adapter for older laptops.

Nick Parbutt, Vodafone's head of enterprise products, said that Mobile Broadband is just for PCs, not handsets, and that the higher speeds are only available where the company has 3G coverage - elsewhere, connections will fall back to GPRS.

He claimed that while customers connected their laptops via their handsets in the early days of mobile data, they now prefer to have a separate connection for the PC, thanks to lower pricing and the fact that it simplifies the whole business of getting on-line.

"These devices generate three times the usage of the previous generation," he said, adding that as well as upgrading its base stations with new software to support the higher speeds, Vodafone has also increased its backhaul capacity based on its predictions of how and where the new data services will be used.

In particular, Parbutt said he expects the HSUPA side to increase the usage of broadband for upload-intensive tasks, adding that Vodafone already sees a traffic spike at the end of major football games, for example, as photographers upload their pictures.

He warned though that while 7.2Mbit/s would be feasible under ideal conditions, more typical download speeds would be 1.7Mbit/s to 5.5Mbit/s.

The Vodafone service has a "fair usage" cap of 3GB a month. Parbutt said that - unlike 3, for its £15 a month 3GB offering - Vodafone would not charge for extra traffic beyond that limit, and "will only take action against habitual abusers." He added that current business customers typically use 150MB to 600MB a month.

"We've also taken a radical approach to roaming," he noted. That consists of charging a single £8.50 fee which allows the customer to connect "in almost any country on any network west of Russia, plus USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand," for 24 hours.

Vodafone also recently announced that it is joining the WiMAX Alliance. "We are keeping an eye on developments," Parbutt said.