Thursday, December 24, 2009

E-EDGE: A mobile network wildcard

NEW YORK, USA: E-EDGE could be big, if it fulfils its potential. The “Evolved” enhancement of today’s widespread EDGE mobile networks could be generating nearly $3.7 billion in CAPEX for cellular base station upgrades in 2015, if operators and handset makers adopt the technology. However, that is by no means certain.

Although the spectrally-efficient Evolved-EDGE includes data features and faster data speeds, no E-EDGE networks exist today, and the existence of the required E-EDGE-enabled handsets is officially still just a rumor.

According to ABI Research analyst Xavier Ortiz, E-EDGE is a classic “chicken and egg” problem: “Handset vendors don’t want to make E-EDGE phones unless there’s a market guaranteed by E-EDGE networks. And operators won’t upgrade their EDGE networks unless they are confident handsets will be available.”

RIM, he reports, says it is “pushing the egg to see if the chicken pops out.” The BlackBerry maker has been a driving force in establishment and promotion of the standard, which it sees as having the potential to bring mobile broadband to rural and suburban areas poorly covered by 3G and 4G networks. RIM believes E-EDGE’s speed and efficiency will translate to a good user experience that won’t saturate network capacity.

With 3G networks quite prevalent in industrialized nations and 4G soon to make its grand entrance, is E-EDGE facing a closing window of opportunity? That may be the case in regions enjoying good broadband coverage, but much of the world does not. That’s why decisions by China Mobile and operators in India are crucial to the future of E-EDGE. If they decide it’s worth adopting, E-EDGE will take off rapidly.

The relative newness of those nations’ cellular infrastructure may work in E-EDGE’s favor, because while older GPRS/GSM base stations will require a hardware upgrade, more recently-built ones can be upgraded in software as part of regular maintenance.

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