Beaten to the punch by Bell Mobility in launching an LTE network in Toronto, Rogers Communications Inc. tried to turn the tables Wednesday with simultaneous launches of next-generation wireless networks in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
The company says the launch gives 5.5 million Canadians access to the 4G wireless service, and by the end of the year it will have expanded coverage to the suburbs of the three cities to cover 10 million people.
Rogers also announced availability of a 10-in. LTE tablet from HTC Corp. called the Jetstream on Oct . 18, priced at $499 on a three-year data plan ($799 without a plan). LTE smart phones from HTC and Samsung Inc. and a Sierra Wireless mobile hotspot will be available “in the coming weeks.” The Samsung Galaxy S II LTE will sell for $199 on a three year data plan. Subscribers can pre-pay for the devices now. For now, though, the only way a subscriber can take advantage of Rogers LTE is by buying a Sierra Wireless USB stick modem for a laptop.
The Jetstream tablet can use an optional ($40 stylus) for annotating Web pages and applications, a feature the carrier believes makes it different from other tablets competitors will offer. The unit has 32 GB of storage, which can be expanded by another 32 GB via a microSD slot. The tablet can connect to the Rogers HSPA+ network if LTE isn’t available.
To entice subscribers to the new service, Rogers has come up with a $52.93 a month introductory plan that includes 10 Gigabytes of data. That plan will be offered until Nov. 28. The standard rate plans start at $45 a month for 1.5 GB of data.
Both Bell and Rogers [TSX: RCI.A and RCI.B] have promised to expand their networks to major Canadian cities over the next year, soon to be joined by Telus Corp., to meet what they say is rapidly escalating demand for high speed wireless.
Long term, there is no doubt Canadians will embrace and pay a premium for LTE so they can more easily cruise the Internet and download files on laptops, handsets and tablets.
But how eager are they now? Not very, according to an unscientific survey taken at a wireless trade show early this month.
Only five of 13 people randomly asked if they are planning to sign up for LTE said yes. Eight said no, including the president of a company that supplies carriers with the antennas and towers in their networks.
“Three megabits per second is good enough for me right now,” he said.
Of those who weren’t interested two wanted to wait a year for prices of devices and data plans to drop, and one said he saw no need unless he had an Apple iPad. If there isn’t enthusiasm among those interested in wireless, when will it come?
John Boynton, Rogers’ executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, who met with reporters Wednesday, shrugged it off. “I think it’s fairly typical. Even people who go to a (wireless) show there’s going to be a portion who are early adopters, a portion who we call fast followers and a portion who are generalists and they lag a bit longer” in adopting technology.
It doesn’t mean anything that they were in the wireless industry, he added. Those who use wireless mainly for email won’t see a need for speed, he said, while those who download attachments or big files will feel differently.
Arguably, it’s still very early. Bell had only launched its LTE service in select southern Ontario cities the day before the show, and had no LTE-enabled smart phones or tablets subscribers could take advantage of it with. The only devices available were USB data sticks.
Boynton wouldn’t divulge subscription sales in Ottawa, other than to say they’re “going very well.”
LTE is a step up from the HSPA networks that most carriers launched two years ago. Today those networks promise download speeds under ideal conditions of 42 Mbps, a considerable leap over the previous network speeds. Network equipment makers talk of pushing HSPA technology much faster, but Boynton said Rogers isn’t interested. It’s betting the future on LTE.
Since Rogers launched its HSPA wireless data network almost two years ago, half of its subscribers are now on that network, he said. However, he wouldn’t forecast how soon half of its wireless users will be LTE subscribers.
Arguably, it’s still very early. Bell had only launched its LTE service in select southern Ontario cities the day before the show, and had no LTE-enabled smart phones or tablets subscribers could take advantage of it with. The only devices were USB data sticks.
LTE, short for Long Term Evolution, is the next generation IP-based wireless data technology that promises download speeds of over 100 Mbps under ideal conditions. Bell and Rogers say LTE customers should get download speeds averaging between 12 and 25 Mbps.