High speed wireless data service starts today in five Ontario cities. But it warns Ottawa the latest in technology won’t be extended to rural areas unless it can get spectrum in the 700 Mhz band

Bell beats Rogers to Toronto with LTE service

Bell Mobility has beaten Rogers Communications Inc. in the race to launch high speed LTE wireless data service in the country’s largest city.

Bell, a division of BCE Inc., quietly released a statement late Tuesday that LTE service will start today in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph. LTE flex-rate data plans start at $45 a month for 1.5 gigabytes of data, and go up from there.

That’s the same pricing starting point as Rogers, which started commercial LTE service in July in Ottawa and promised to add Toronto on Sept. 28.

Bell [TSX, NYSE: BCE] said earlier this year it would start LTE service before the end of the year, but kept the launch dates and cities secret.

Telus Corp. has also promised to launch LTE service in unnamed cities, but so far is sticking to its expectation that it won’t start until early next year.
“LTE is the next step in ensuring Bell continues to deliver the best networks in the world to Canadian consumers and businesses, backed up by the newest data devices and the leading mobile services and content available,” Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility said in a statement. “LTE will deliver amazing data access speeds – at least three times faster than the Bell HSPA+ network originally launched less than three years ago.”
 
Carriers around the world are anxious to upgrade to LTE as they face increasing demand by subscribers using mobile laptops, smartphones and tablets to send and recieve data files, music and videos.
 
 
Initially, Bell customers will only be able to buy USB modems to plug into laptops, dubbed Turbo Sticks. They’ll be able to buy LTE-enabled smartphones and tablets “later this year,” the press release said.
 
Rogers [TSX: RCI.A and RCI.B] has said that next week its LTE subscribers will have a choice of two LTE smartphones and tablets.

LTE, short for Long Term Evolution, is the next generation IP-based wireless data technology that promises download speeds of over 100 Mbps under ideal conditions. Bell and Rogers say LTE customers should get download speeds averaging between 12 and 25 Mbps. The current generation HSPA+ wireless data technology used by Bell, Rogers and Telus maxes out at 42 Mpbs — again under ideal conditions — depending on which version of the standard they are using. Real average speeds will be below 10 Mpbs.

The current version of LTE that carriers are rolling out around the world isn’t regarded by experts as a true 4G (fourth generation) wireless standard that has a converged IP voice and data network. Voice over LTE won’t come until the LTE Advanced standard is finalized, which is likely a year away. Until then LTE-enabled smartphones will only take advantage of LTE on the data side.

Bell said its LTE network will be extended to other cities this year and in 2012, but says broadening the coverage to rural areas will depend on the rules Industry Canada sets for the upcoming 700 Mhz auction. That spectrum is prized by carriers for its ability to carry signals over longer distances, which means fewer cellular antennas have to be installed for a given area. That results in considerable capital savings.

It’s a threat that several other carriers have made as the Harper government considers the auction rules in the face of calls from wireless startups like Wind Mobile and Mobilicity, who say the government should either set aside of spectrum for small carriers or newcomers so the big three carriers won’t buy it all, or forbid Bell, Rogers and Telus from bidding at all.
 
But before the government sets the auction rules it has to decide who will be eligible to participate in what is expected to be a multi-billion-dollar war for spectrum. Under the Telecommunications Act, only Canadian-controlled companies can own telecommunications spectrum. The Harper government wants to liberalize the telecom ownership rules to increase competition as well as help existing wireless startups gain access to funds for expanding their networks and bid on spectrum. Therefore setting the ownership rules, the government has said, has to come before the auction rules.

The industry hopes the government’s strategy will become clearer when parliament resumes in the fall.

 

 
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