Wireless speed war about to start

The country’s wireless carriers have a gift for you in time for the holidays: A speed war.

It will begin Nov. 23 when BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility division pushes its HSPA wireless data network’s maximum download speed to 42 megabits per second from 21 Mbps in Toronto, and starts selling a USB laptop modem to take advantage of it.
However, there’s a price: Subscribers will pay $10 a month extra to use any extra high-speed compatible devices.
Other carriers are expected to quickly follow with speed boosts. Bell’s partner on its national network, Telus Corp., announced in August it started pushing its network to 42 Mpbs, although at the time it predicted it wouldn’t start selling USB devices until early 2011.
In an e-mail Thursday, Telus director of media relations Jim Johannsson suggested Telus isn’t in a rush to match Bell. “At this time there are still no devices in the market that support the full capabilities of Dual Cell technology [which lifts wireless network speed to 42 Mbps],” he wrote. “The only devices available right now are limited to 850 MHz and will only operate in a small portion of the network” in the Toronto area. Instead Telus is still waiting for “fully functional” devices that can use its 1900 MHz spectrum. “This is expected in the coming weeks,” Johannsson wrote.
Bell said that for now its 42 Mbps wireless capability will be limited to downtown and midtown Toronto. It will extend to the rest of its network in Eastern Canada by the end of the year.
“By implementing HSPA+ Dual Cell technology, Bell Mobility offers clients the ability to access the Internet and other data services at what we believe are the fastest mobile data speeds commercially available from any wireless carrier in North America,” Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility & Residential Services, said in a news release.
There are few devices on the market now to take advantage of the 42 Mpbs download speeds, which is achievable under ideal conditions. Most subscribers will see average download speeds of around 12 to 15 Mpbs.
No Canadian carrier sells an HSPA+ handsets capable of leveraging that speed. Only USB modems for laptops have the capability. Initially Bell will sell only one such device, the U547 Turbo Stick from Novatel Wireless Inc.
Meanwhile in the U.S., carrier T-Mobile has two HSPA-capable handsets, the HTC G2 and the MyTouch 4G. However they can only leverage speeds up to 14.4 Mbps.
A Bell spokesman said its HTC Desire Z is capable of download speeds of up to 14.4 Mbps.
Dawood Khan, a partner at Red Mobile Consulting, a Toronto firm that has advised carriers and governments around the world on wireless strategy, said there’s more to raising network speed than giving enterprise users the ability to transmit large images or engage in high-definition videoconferencing. “It allows carriers to have much better spectral efficiency for data, hence it reduces the cost per megabyte. It reduces latency, provides better throughput.”

HSPA (short for High Speed Packet Access) is an IP-based wireless data technology whose speeds can be boosted relatively inexpensively — compared to older wireless networks — mainly with software. A carrier in Sweden, 3 Scandanavia, a has kicked its network up to 84 Mpbs, and telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson says one of its customers is testing speeds over 100 Mbps.

Considered a 3.5G technology, in addition to data speed HSPA’s other advantage is that it is a path for carriers to a fourth generation wireless technology called LTE Advanced, whose voice and data sides are IP-based. HSPA’s data side is IP-based, but still still uses packets for voice. An early version of LTE on which only the data side is IP-based, is just starting to be adopted by carriers around the world. The first in North America was MetroPCS. Verizon Wireless is expected to launch LTE service in select U.S. cities shortly, followed by AT&T next year. 
LTE promises data speeds of well over 100 Mpbs. It is being tested by all Canadian carriers, raising the question of whether they will push HSPA faster or leap to LTE. There is speculation that Western Canadian cableco Shaw Communications Inc.’s  new wireless network, which will debut late next year, will offer LTE as a way to capture headlines. With AT&T and Verizon Wireless leading the LTE charge in the U.S., there may soon be lots of LTE-capable devices by the time Shaw wireless launches.
However, Khan believes Canadian carriers won’t rush. Instead, he thinks LTE here is still  a few years away.