One of the problems bedevilling carriers is how to deliver faster broadband speeds to rural customers as they boast about the speeds their urban clients can get.
SaskTel said Monday it will test a new approach starting in December in three Saskatchewan communities: Fixed data and voice wireless service using the LTE standard.
The carrier announced from Bejing that it has signed an agreement with Huawei Technologies for a nine-month trial to see if the technology is economically feasible.
The pact was announced in China in part because Premier Brad Wall is there on a mission.
“SaskTel's copper infrastructure dates back to the 1960s and we are fast approaching the need to replace and upgrade this technology," SaskTel CEO Ron Styles said in a statement. "With the positive partnership that has evolved with Huawei with our 4G network and our mobile LTE wireless deployment efforts that are underway, we are very pleased to partner with them to complete this trial."
LTE, short for Long-Term Evolution, is usually thought of a mobile wireless data technology built into the latest handsets, tablets and USB modems.
This test will use Huawei base stations and customer modems using technology called TDD-LTE (for time-division duplex), a version developed by Chinese telecom manufacturers like Huawei which doesn't require paired spectrum. Transmit and receive signals are sent on the same channel. Handsets in North America use FDD-LTE (for frequency-division duplex), which requires paired spectrum. The test will use SaskTel’s spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. Also to be tested is the suitability of the emerging voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology. LTE handsets now still carry voice signals over a separate band. VoLTE is a converged Internet protocol voice-data technology that promises carriers greater efficiencies with their spectrum.
Scott Bradley, vice-president of government and corporate affairs for Huawei Canada, who is in Bejing for the deal signing, said in a phone call this morning that the trial will test the speed and range of the technology, as well as different residential modem/antenna options. Extending broadband into Saskatchewan's less densely-populated areas is a problem because some homes are several kilometers away from each other, he said.
It is hoped customers will see download speeds of close to 100 Mbps, which is the theoretical maximum LTE can achieve under ideal circumstances. Download speeds will vary based on the number of people on the network.
(In a recent test on the Telus network in Toronto, IT World Canada sometimes got download speeds of just over 40 Mbps using a wireless RIM PlayBook tablet).
By comparison, last month SaskTel announced it has started construction of its infiNet fibre optic to the home landline network in the province that will give download speeds of up to 200 Mbps. That $670 million network will be built in the province’s nine largest cities over seven years.
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