MetroPCS Communications Inc. has become the first North American carrier to offer 4G wireless service using the ultra fast LTE
How soon will a Canadian operator follow?
Initially, MetroPCS said Tuesday, service is available only in Las Vegas, but will be extended to more cities.
The Dallas-based carrier has been in a race with Verizon Wireless to be the first U.S. carrier to offer the next generation service for a big reason: Efficiency. Canadian carriers are interested for the same reason, but officially profess that they’re in no rush.
LTE has the potential to easily outstrip the speed and capacity of HSPA+ data networks used Canadian carriers, which currently offer maximum download speeds – under ideal conditions – of 21 Mbps. While HSPA+ can be boosted to 84 Mpbs or more, typically users will see average downloads speeds of only one-third the potential maximum. But LTE users will see closer to promised speeds of up to 100 Mpbs.
LTE does it in part by running on efficient 700 MHz spectrum, although it can run on higher frequencies. However, carriers lean towards using lower frequencies where they can get better area coverage. LTE is also based on Internet protocol, which makes spectrum go further. The current version of LTE, though, only has the data side IP-enabled. In an upcoming version called LTE Advanced, the voice side will be IP as well, offering great efficiencies for carriers.
Iain Grant, managing director of theSeaBoard Group, a telecommunications consultancy, notes Canadian wireless carriers aren’t in a hurry to upgrade to LTE because their new HSPA networks are less than a year old. “There’s no frequency congestion here,” he said.
Meanwhile, Industry Canada has yet to auction off 700 MHz spectrum here, some of which will come from conventional TV broadcasters when they switch next August to digital transmission. One problem is the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) has said it won’t meet the deadline to surrender spectrum in some areas.
In fact Industry Canada has yet to set the 700 MHz auction rules, although recently Industry minister Tony Clement was quoted in news reports as saying he’d like to get on with the process. There will be quite a battle over the rules, with incumbent wireless carriers such as BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada calling for an open auction and startups like Wind Mobile arguing that without special rules for smaller carriers the incumbents will buy all the spectrum.
Set aside rules in the 2008 auction allowed Wind, Mobilicity, Shaw Communications Inc, and others to get into wireless.
Industry Canada also has to set rules for using LTE on the 2.6 GHz spectrum, now used by Bell and Rogers Communications Inc. on their joint effort called Inukshuk, which brings fixed wireless to remote areas.