Rogers Wireless sets plan to join standard

Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. has announced it will build North America’s largest integrated wireless voice and packet data network beginning this year.

Rogers said it will be overlaying a GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) network over its existing TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) network with integrated GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), which can provide packet data speeds of up to 115Kbps.

GSM is the most widely deployed digital wireless standard in the world with more than 400 million customers in more than 150 countries.

By July 2001, the company said it will launch an “always-on” GPRS wireless packet data service along with GSM digital voice service with a variety of integrated handsets, and expects to expand this coverage to more than 83 per cent of Canada’s population by year-end 2001.

The company said by 2002, it will expand the GSM-GPRS coverage to match the current analogue footprint of 93 per cent, and will increase its wireless packet data delivery speed at peak rates up to 384Kbps by adding the EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution), a Third Generation (3G) technology to its GSM-GPRS network.

By 2003, Rogers said it will deploy UTMS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), which, as defined by the International Telecommunications Union, is the world’s choice for 3G wireless service delivery. UTMS will facilitate the delivery of new services and capabilities in low-cost, high-capacity mobile communications wit data rates of up to 2Mbps and worldwide roaming.

According to Bob Berner, senior vice-president and CTO of Rogers Wireless, Rogers original plan was “to deploy EDGE as a 3G technology that would have involved handsets that had voice on TDMA and data on EDGE, then would eventually migrate them to voice over IP (VoIP) on EDGE.”

“That’s not the plan that most people in the world are going to do,” Berner said. “It’s better to be a member of the world community, otherwise you won’t have the widest variety of handsets, you won’t have the most economic network deployment … and you won’t have the greatest functionality.”

Berner said that 86 per cent of the world’s subscribers will in the near future be using technologies that are evolving toward common data protocols.

“That means applications can all work the same way and can be delivered across networks on the same protocols,” he said. “What appears to be occurring is 3G operators are declaring they will be deploying UTMS. If that is a trend, then that is where you want to end up. The worldwide development of infrastructure and handsets will concentrate on where most of the operators in the world are going.”

Although EDGE and UTMS technology promises to reach high speeds at peak rate, one analyst reminded that at this point it is only speculation.

“Some analysts will tell you we’ll never get there,” said Jeremy Depow, senior analyst, The Yankee Group in Canada. “Internet on a cell phone will never be like it is at your home or at your office. It will never be that fast.”

Depow said that though video streaming may be pushing the limit, he expects that 3G technologies will allow for much larger amounts of data, like pictures, to be sent back and forth.

“I think one of the key points of 3G will be, for example, if I went on a canoe trip and…I wanted to send you a picture, I could take a picture with a digital camera and send it directly to you on your mobile device,” Depow said. “That type of thing will happen and people will use it. But watching TV or downloading movies, those will be extremely difficult. I can’t see that happening.”

Berner said that Rogers’ network augmentation is not a substitution for the TDMA network. “There will still be customers who don’t find value in the integrated packet voice and data capabilities and there will be customers that do. We want to be able to satisfy the needs of both those types of customers.”

Depow said that the big announcement is not GSM, but rather that Rogers sees EDGE and UTMS as the future.

“Is it going to be real? Yes I think it is. There is going to be such a thing as 3G technology. Is it going to be in the next couple of years? No, it’s going to take a little longer than that. Is it going to be everything (Rogers) says it is going to be? No, but it’s heading that way.”

Berner said Rogers is very excited by the move forward into 3G technology, because he said “it is going to give us a ubiquitous footprint of ‘always on’ packet data integrated voice capability a year earlier than we could have otherwise because of the advanced state of worldwide technology capability. That is very important to our customers because our customers expect us to give them the greatest flexibility as soon as it’s available.”