Mobile operator O2 is going to roll out HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), the enhanced 3G (third generation) standard known as 3.5G. It will appear this year in O2's traditional testing ground, the Isle of Man, and could reach the mainland next year.

Other operators will probably adopt at the same time, since HSDPA is essentially a software upgrade to the 3G network.

"No one else is doing HSDPA in Europe," said Mike Short, vice-president for research and development at O2. So far Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo has the most advanced plans to deliver the technology, bringing broadband speeds of around 4Mbps (megabits per second) to mobiles.

"We need a wider range of devices before we launch in the UK," Short said, adding that the Isle of Man trial will be of datacards.

"The trial makes sense because [O2's Manx Telecom subsidiary] provides fixed and mobile communications and we can deploy quickly," Short said. "We need to learn how stable the customer equipment is."

Short said he expects HSDPA handsets in 2006, but these will be PDAs and communicators with voice.

"Speed alone does not sell," Short said. He promised multimedia content, which will be delivered by a Siemens-built IP (internet protocol) multimedia subsystem. IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), a standard based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and defined by the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP), will allow presence, chat and the ability to share multimedia.

Short echoed the industry's general rejection of EDGE, the 2.5G technology that adds high speed to GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks. "It was deployed in countries where they have spectrum difficulties, or weren't worried about roaming," Short said. "We didn't see it as cost-effective; we will transition to 3G instead."

Short said O2 will market 3G at the same price per megabyte as it sells GPRS, instead of charging a further premium; although given the per-megabyte charges for mobile, we'd have thought those prices were quite rapacious enough, thanks.

Although O2 is a member of the UMA consortium which has made the specifications that make BT's project Bluephone possible, O2 has no plans to launch anything like it, Short said. The project has been revealed as a mobile-centric system, that uses Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to extend mobile coverage indoors, but he does not expect good enough voice quality. "We have done voice on Bluetooth tests. Bluetooth is not geared to be a PSTN replacement," Short said. "I can see voice over Wi-Fi, but only after some time."