Vodafone is looking to jump the gun on Telstra by launching high speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) services on October 20.But the services will be available only to subscribers in yet-to-be announced parts of the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas – while HSDPA modems won’t be available until November, and HSDPA mobile handsets until the first half of 2007.

No other cities in Australia will get the service until at least 2007.

HSDPA has been described as a more advanced version of third-generation (3G) mobile phone services, offering data speeds that are faster than many fixed-line broadband connections, and – after phase 2 services are introduced next year – could theoretically allow many clients to watch television on mobile phones.

Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo has promised a start to Telstra’s 850MHz HSDPA service before the end of this year and may announce a start date at an investor briefing this Friday. Trujillo plans to replace both Telstra’s current GSM and CDMA services with the new HSDPA service – and (controversially) claims it will offer some subscribers Internet connections at up to 14.4 megabits per second by the end of 2007.

Vodafone is claiming its HSDPA service – to be promoted as “mobile broadband” – will initially offer data download speeds of up to 1.8 Mbps, or around four times faster than its current 3G service. However publicity from Ericsson, which is supplying technology and equipment for Vodafone’s HSDPA launches round the world, makes it plain that 1.8Mbps is a “theoretical” download speed.

Vodafone says data upload speeds should reach 384Kbps, three times its current 3G service.

To access the HSDPA service, customers will need to purchase a Vodafone Mobile Connect HSDPA/3G data card, available this week from Vodafone stores and certified resellers for $299. On top of that they face shelling out at least $30 a month for a “data bundle” limited to 100MB a month, or up to $100 a month for a 1GB/month bundle. Extra downloads cost 30c a meg.

The PMCIA-format card will also be peddled to “credit-approved applicants” for $12.46 a month over two years.

Vodafone says HSDPA connectivity gear will be built into some new Lenovo notebook PCs: buyers of these machines won’t need to shell out for a datacard. The carrier hopes to release an HSDPA/3G USB modem in November, and says it expects the first HSDPA mobile handsets to be available in the first half of 2007.

For teams of mobile workers, the $299 VMC/HSDPA datacard can be linked to a Linksys Wireless-G router, enabling up to five laptop users to share the high-speed connection. Vodafone says a shared mobile broadband and wireless network can be set up anywhere Vodafone’s HSDPA/3G service is available – that is, parts of Melbourne and Sydney after October 20.

Vodafone says it will release details of its HSDPA network footprints in Sydney and Melbourne at launch on October 20, and will announce rollout plans for other cities in 2007.

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