SaskTel’s LTE equipment may depend on Bell, Telus

The decision of which network equipment maker will supply gear for SaskTel’s new LTE wireless data network may not be a matter of the lowest price.

In an interview this week, John Meldrum, the vice-president of regulatory affairs at the provincially-owned phone company said it may depend on whether it can strike another roaming partnership with BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility and Telus Corp before it begins constructing its next-generation LTE wireless data network.

For SaskTel’s HSPA wireless network, built last year, the carrier inked a network reciprocity agreement with Bell and Telus, Meldrum explained: SaskTel wireless subscribers got the right to roam on the HSPA network of the other two carriers, while they got roaming rights in Saskatchewan.

As a result, SaskTel chose to buy its network equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks, a prime supplier to Bell and Telus.

 “We’re interested in pursing that same kind of (roaming) relationship for LTE,” Meldrum said.

“If we end up doing something with Bell and Telus for LTE, we won’t go with a different supplier than they go with.”

A Bell spokesperson said the carrier had no comment. Telus didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Bell and Telus, who are in the middle of building their new LTE networks, have been silent on which companies they’re using. Typically carriers don’t announce who their equipment supplier is until commercial service is close to starting.

Bell has said the commercial debut of its LTE data network will start before the end of the year in select Canadian cities, while Telus says its network will be open for business early next year.

LTE, short for Long Term Evolution, is the next generation of wireless data technology that promises data speeds of over 100 megabits per second under ideal conditions. SaskTel’s current HSPA network can offer top speeds of up to 21 Mbps, although it will double that in some areas of the province soon.

Around the world an increasing number of carriers are upgrading their data networks to LTE. Built to be an all-IP standard, the initial implementation of LTE is data only, with the voice segment still packet-based. LTE Advanced, with all IP voice-over-LTE, isn’t expected until 2013 at least.

Last week SaskTel said it will upgrade its network in Regina and Saskatoon to LTE late next year.

The telco it will cost $45 million to offer LTE in the two cities, leveraging much of the HSPA infrastructure. By comparison it cost $200 million to build the HSPA network across the province, but that was an entirely new network that included fibre optic lines and a new core switch.

While the HSPA network isn’t slow, and is significantly faster than SaskTel’s old CDMA network, Meldrum said there is already congestion on the new network as subscribers eagerly consume more data.
“There’s a lot of congestion,” he said. According to a SaskTel official, data use on the HSPA network is 1,000 per cent more than expected. There are “definitely complaints” from subscribers about the network’s speed, Meldrum said.

SaskTel has a “fair usage” policy involving throttling heavy users. “There’s certainly more to come in that regard,” although the carrier will also be building more cell towers to meet capacity demands.

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