DAVE Wireless to have speedy network

In a bid to show it’s serious about building a new cellular contender, fledgling carrier DAVE Wireless said it is building a state-of-the-art network and signed a roaming deal with a U.S. carrier to give its subscribers service south of the border.

The deal with T-Mobile USA “is going to give our customers access to one of the most advanced networks in the world,” DAVE president Dave Dobbin said Thursday.

In an interview Dobbin gave a small peek at some of the things the company has been doing since spending just over $243 million last summer on spectrum covering major cities west of Ottawa.

The company is building an HSPA+ -based network to make sure it matches or exceeds the speeds of its competitors. HSPA+ is a faster implementation of HSPA (which stands for High Speed Packet Access), currently used by most GSM carriers around the world, promising peak download speeds of 21 Mbps. Carriers started upgrading their networks to HSPA+ last fall.

Rogers Wireless’ network is currently HSPA-based. Bell Mobility and Telus are in the middle of building an HSPA+ network that will run side-by-side with their older CDMA cellular network. At press time a spokesman for Rogers couldn’t confirm if or when it will upgrading to HSPA+.

Newcomer Videotron is also building an HSPA network. The other major new wireless carrier, Globalive Wireless, has only said it will launch a GSM-based network.

“We made the choice to deploy HSPA+ because it’s the latest and the fastest technology available today,” Dobbin said.

Although DAVE’s target market will be consumers rather than businesses, the company’s personal-sounding name – which stands for Digital and Audio Visual Enterprises – won’t be the brand it will go to market with. A new moniker will be chosen by the end of the summer.

Service will start “early in 2010,” Dobbin said, meaning it will be behind the biggest of the new wireless competitors, Globalive Wireless, which wants to launch before the end of the year. Globalive has spectrum in every province except Quebec. Public Mobile, which has spectrum only in Ontario and Quebec, aims to start selling service before the end of the year. Videotron has suggested its new service will start either late this year or early next year.

Timing doesn’t worry Dobbin, who said it’s more important to have a service that can meet customers’ expectations than be first. He also doesn’t want to give away too much strategy to competitors. “I don’t think it’s a great think to nail down a specific date on when the network will be operational,” he said. “We are entering an incredibly competitive market, with three very large competitors.”

One of the new entrants may try to launch with small area coverage, he said, “but for us what’s more important is to offer a top-quality customer service and providing good network service across our entire service territory.”

The network design has been completed, staff have identified roof-tops on a number of buildings where antennas can be located and a “global” equipment manufacturer – who Dobbin wouldn’t identified – has been contracted to supply and install transmitters and receivers. Business and operational support software suppliers are on the verge of being chosen.

However, Dobbin wouldn’t say how much it will cost to fully develop the network. Globalive Wireless estimates it will need $1.9 billion to cover all of the area it has spectrum for. “We’re well underway in Toronto,” Dobbin said. “We’ll be moving to Vancouver after that and on from there.

While DAVE’s footprint covers much of the urban landscape of the country – including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and southern Ontario, it doesn’t include Quebec or the Maritimes. However, Dobbin noted that Industry Canada has ordered the incumbents to allow roaming on their networks. While those deals haven’t been worked out yet, Dobbin doesn’t see any problems.

As for what subscribers will be charged, Dobbin left his options open. Last month the Globe and Mail quoted him as saying his company won’t offer three-year contracts. On Thursday, however, he said that at the time he wasn’t talking strategy but about how other carriers charge subscribers full price for replacing a broken phone in the middle of a contract.

“I can’t say we won’t do contracts,” he said. “It’s way too early in this process to talk about what our service plans will be.” What he would say is that the plans will deliver “flexibility, simplicity and value.” That’s not far from what Globalive Wireless (it will sell “cost-effective, simple” pre-paid plans to consumers) and Public Mobile ($40 a month, no contract) talk about. Meanwhile, the incumbents are lowering their prices and simplifying their plans.

Asked how his service will differentiate itself from others, Dobbin said there are many ways. “Focusing on the customer and the customer experience is very important to us,” he said.” One way is through support. The company is about to issue a request for proposals for an outsourced call centre, but Dobbin said a final decision on whether it would be better to do it in-house hasn’t been made. Being assured that an outsourced call centre can maintain quality control will be a key factor, he said.

For its part, Globalive has decided to build a contact centre in Windsor, Ont. which will handle calls for both its wireless and wireline businesses.

DAVE Wireless is backed by Obelysk, the holding company of Toronto mogul John Bitove, and Quadrangle Capital Partners, a New York-based investment company with experience in telecommunications.

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