Telus exec sticks to 2010 launch for new network

Telus and Bell are rushing to finish their new high speed HSPA wireless network, which will be capable of serving the fastest handsets such as Apple’s iPhone 3G. However, a Telus executive dismissed reports that the operators will begin selling service this fall, months earlier than expected.

“I was making calls on it yesterday,” David Neale, senior vice-president for products and services at Telus consumer solutions, said Friday of the network under construction. “It’s great.” he said of the quality, although, with a laugh he admitted that may have been because “where I was I was the only person on the network.”

The partners are turning on base stations on the new network every day, he added, with the goal of covering 94 per cent of the population. “We will approach the footprint coverage toward the back end of the year,” he added, “and that’s when we conclude testing and get ready for market launch” early next year.

He also had no comment on reports that Bell and Telus already have deals with Apple to carry the iPhone on the new network. “We’re focused on building an HSPA network [now] … We’ll worry about developing relationships with suppliers new to us at that time.”

If Bell and Telus can score Apple’s permission to carry iPhones, it would be a coup over Rogers Communications, which has had the exclusive rights to the hugely popular device since last summer. It is unknown when that exclusive deal expires.

The current networks of the two phone companies are based on CDMA technology, which the iPhone doesn’t support.

Bell and Telus announced last fall that they would build an HSPA-based network this year, with the goal of starting service early in 2010. That would put it around the time of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, when large number of spectators from around the world toting GSM/HSPA devices will flood the city. If it is the only GSM/HSPA provider in the country, Rogers will clean up on roaming fees.

But a telecommunications industry veteran who asked not to be identified told Network World Canada on Friday that the new Bell/Telus network is “pretty well up” in southern Ontario and that Bell and Telus “are set to go [live] a little earlier than expected.” He didn’t know if they would start service in select cities first and spread across the country, or start nationally.

“We all have our opinions,” Neale said of the source’s comments. The Bell/Telus HSPA network has to be finished before launch so it can be tested, he acknowledged. However, “in terms of general commercial availability that [a fall start] is not something we have announced publicly,” which is early 2010.

A fall start could not only be trouble for Rogers, but also three of the four new wireless companies who will also have HSPA networks — DAVE Wireless and Globalive Wireless, which will have service in a number of provinces, and Videotron, which will blanket Quebec.

The newcomers, who spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy spectrum last year and will spend hundreds of millions more to build their networks, say they will launch either late this year or early next year. But if Bell/Telus launch first it could dampen their debuts.

For competitive reasons, carriers can to be cagy about when they will start service, and their rates.

Meanwhile Rogers Communications has been upgrading its GSM/HSPA network in anticipation of the competition.

As for handsets, Neale also said that Telus will likely sell HSPA-only handsets for the new network, rather than dual mode devices that can use both its CDMA and the new HSPA network. The new network would have such extensive coverage across the country there’d be no need for dual-mode phones, he said.

One advantage Rogers has over Bell and Telus is the ability to offer the latest handsets from manufacturers, which are putting out devices for the GSM/HSPA platform faster than for CDMA and its broadband technology, called EV-DO Rev. A. Neale suggested that was the main reason why Bell and Telus are building the new network.

“We wanted the ability to offer our customers the selection of any type device rather than [only] CDMA devices,” he said. “We believe that by participating in HSPA we could now reach out and have access to a huge ecosystem worldwide.” Increasingly, handset manufactures will be making cellphones that support multiple bands, he added.

“For example, HSPA phones from Europe will be able to roam onto HSPA networks in North America. So there is an opportunity for incremental inbound and outbound revenues from people using smartphones, which are designed to be used on the Internet.”