Rogers unveils 3G Edge network

Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. announced on Tuesday the availability of its third-generation data network, EDGE, which boasts speeds up to 384Kbps — three times faster than its existing network.

EDGE stands for Enhanced Data Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) Evolution and is a step up from Rogers’ current General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) infrastructure. Rogers is currently the only Canadian Internet service provider (ISP) to offer 3G wireless data services.

Right now, EDGE is only available for notebook computer users if they purchase Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB’s GC82 PC EDGE card from Rogers Wireless at $399.99 plus pay for Rogers Wireless’ Data Delivery Service, which costs $40 and up, depending on the service level, said Heather Armstrong, assistant vice-president of communications for Rogers Wireless in Toronto.

In late 2003, Rogers piloted the EDGE service in the Vancouver area but now the network has been rolled out nationwide. It reaches just upward of 93 per cent of Canada’s populace, Rogers said.

The initial target of the EDGE service is the mobile worker who needs to access the Internet and corporate intranets from home or while traveling, Armstrong said. To ensure Canadians have coverage when traveling to the U.S., Rogers synchronized the release of its EDGE network with AT&T Wireless Services Inc. in the U.S., which also unveiled its EDGE network Tuesday. But if Canadians travel beyond the scope of any EDGE network, the Sony Ericsson GC82 PC EDGE card also works on GPRS networks, Armstrong added.

The GC82 card is compatible with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 SP3, XP and PocketPC 2002 on Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMC1A)-enabled devices.

Whether businesses will flock to EDGE depends a lot on what applications are currently being deployed across wireless networks, said Mark Quigley, research director at the Yankee Group Canada in Ottawa.

“Most of what has been done from the enterprise perspective is e-mail, which from a mobile device perspective doesn’t necessitate huge gobs of bandwidth,” he noted. “Even though e-mails are getting larger because there are more and more attachments, for the most part mobile devices aren’t suitable to view that sort of stuff.”

Additionally, most of the addressable market for EDGE is the handset market, not for the notebook user, which Rogers is targeting, Quigley said.

“Compare to that larger wireless population, you have a limited number of folks that have a PCMCIA card plugged into their laptops ” he explained. “The big impact going down the road of a 3G deployment is going to come from those applications that are going to run over mobile devices as opposed to the applications that are going to run on a laptop.”

Also, Quigley said the limited market of users with wireless-enabled laptops is currently well served by Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi).

“You’ve got airport lounges, hotels, restaurants, et cetera, that have some kind of Wi-Fi-based coverage,” he said. “Presumably the next step on that is to allow roaming between networks. For example, if you’re a Bell [Canada] Sympatico subscriber, a roaming agreement might be put in place with a Wi-Fi provider such that you would be able to use that service and there would be a mechanism to bill back.”

However, he said there is a niche market of salespeople who would likely need to access customer relationship management and supply chain management software who might benefit from the additional bandwidth EDGE allows.

But he said 3G networks will become more relevant in the future so it is a worthwhile investment for an ISP.

“If Rogers is a little ahead of the game, it gives them time to understand the capability of the network and business user demand,” he said. “And again if it’s part of your overall network evolution, the cost is minimal and arguably by deploying now, Rogers is giving itself more time to explore the technology from a network perspective and applications perspective.”

To address a larger handset market, Rogers Wireless’ Armstrong said the company will have 3G handsets from Nokia Inc. available “very soon,” but wouldn’t comment if a partnership with Sony Ericsson for wireless handsets is in the works.

Joe Cucci, service manager at Sony Ericsson in Mississauga, Ont., said it will release two 3G handsets in Canada before the end of 2004 but didn’t say which ISP it would be working with.

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