Wireless startup Public Mobile will start offering service in May with its new CDMA-based network, a 3G standard which cellular companies in North America see as increasingly outdated.
However, the company said Thursday it’s ready to upgrade to the advanced so-called fourth generation LTE broadband standard when needed.
“One of the advantages of building a modern network today is most of the radios are soft-ware defined,” said Brian O’Shaughnessy, vice-president for network and technology, said in an interview, “so it’s largely a software change to make it LTE.
“I’ll have to put some computer boxes at the switch to enable the functionality, I’ll probably have to put one card in a base station to enable it, but everything I’m installing now is capable of supporting LTE as it stands. It’s a minor upgrade.”
The startup expects to have its carrier licence shortly from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and will begin service in mid-May.
It will start with a $40 a month unlimited prepaid talk and text plan (not including taxes) and full-priced handsets ranging from $70 to $180. To lure customers, those who sign up before commercial service begins will get free long-distance within the country as long as they remain subscribers.
The target market is “working class” Canadians who have been avoiding cellular, part of the estimated 30 per cent of the country that hasn't signed up for wireless.
The company spent $52 million on little-wanted PCS “G-block” frequencies in the 2008 spectrum auction covering populous southern Ontario and southern Quebec. That spectrum was ignored by most bidders who thought no handset maker had devices that could run on those particular frequencies.
By comparison other bidders spent hundreds of millions more buying more advanced AWS spectrum, which better handles bandwidth-hogging rich media.
For Public Mobile, the relatively inexpensive PCS spectrum suits its aim to offer a modestly-priced service by keeping down its capital expense.
Meanwhile other North Amercian PCS carriers are looking ahead to LTE, an all IP-based and highly-efficient broadband technology. BCE Inc. and Telus Corp., who partnered for years on a PCS-based network using CDMA technology, just spent around $1 billion to build a new 3.5G HSPA network, which will eventually be upgraded to LTE. In the U.S., Verizon Wireless MetroPCS Wireless Inc. hope to launch LTE service by the end of the year.
To make sure it won’t be stuck in the past Public Mobile's network, built around base station equipment from China’s ZTE Corp., can easily be upgraded to the advanced LTE standard when needed.