HSDPA, short for High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, is a new protocol for mobile telephone data transmission. It is known as a 3.5G (G stands for generation) technology. Essentially, the standard will provide download speeds on a mobile phone equivalent to an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) line in a home, removing any limitations placed on the use of your phone by a slow connection. It is an evolution and improvement on W-CDMA, or Wideband Code Division Multiple Access, a 3G protocol. This protocol improves the data transfer rate by a factor of at least five over W-CDMA. HSDPA can achieve theoretical data transmission speeds of 8-10 Mbps (megabits per second). Though any data can be transmitted, applications with high data demands such as video and streaming music are the focus of HSDPA.
HSDPA improves on W-CDMA by using different techniques for modulation and coding. It creates a new channel within W-CDMA called HS-DSCH, or high-speed downlink shared channel. That channel performs differently than other channels and allows for faster downlink speeds. It is important to note that the channel is only used for downlink. That means that data is sent from the source to the phone. It isn't possible to send data from the phone to a source using HSDPA. The channel is shared between all users which lets the radio signals to be used most effectively for the fastest downloads.
The widespread availability of this protocol may take a while to be realized, or it may never be achieved. Most countries did not have a widespread 3G network in place as of the end of 2005. Many mobile telecommunications providers are working quickly to deploy 3G networks which can be upgraded to 3.5G when the market demand exists. Other providers tested HSDPA through 2005 and are rolling out the service in mid to late 2006. Early deployments of the service will be at speeds much lower than the theoretically possible rates. Early service will be at 1.8 Mbps, with upgrades to 3.6Mbps as devices are made available that can handle that increased speed.
The long-term acceptance and success of the protocol is unclear, because it is not the only alternative for high speed data transmission. Standards like CDMA2000 1xEV-DO and WiMax are other potential high speed standards. Since HSDPA is an extension of W-CDMA, it is unlikely to succeed in locations where W-CDMA has not been deployed. Therefore, the eventual success of the protocol as a 3.5G standard will first depend upon the success of W-CDMA as a 3G standard.