For several months U.S. wireless carriers have captured North American headlines about the launch or impending launch of fourth generation wireless service using the LTE technology.
This comes as Canadian carriers are just getting settled with their new 3.5G networks running the HSPA+ standard.
Now a Canadian carrier is making 4G noise. Rogers Communications Inc. said late Wednesday it has started comprehensive technical LTE trials in and around the Ottawa area with its equipment provider, Ericsson Canada. However, Bob Berner, the company’s vice-president of networks and chief technology officer, wouldn’t say if the move means it is close to implementing the high-speed technology.
Spokesmen for BCE Inc’s Bell Canada and Rogers Communications Inc. quickly said they’ve been quietly testing LTE on their networks. Julie Smithers of Bell said the telco has been doing live tests in Montreal and Hamilton, Ont. No one, she insisted, is ahead of Bell in testing the 4G technology.
The Rogers’ live test will run for months, Berner said, initially on the 1700 Mhz and 2100 Mhz spectrum Rogers bought in the AWS spectrum, and, if it can get a temporary licence from Industry Canada, in the yet-to-be auctioned 700 Mhz spectrum.
He gave the impression Rogers is in no rush to upgrade to LTE, saying it takes time to debug new technology.
That was echoed by telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg. “There’s an awful lot of stuff that needs to be tested,” he said. “There’s a fair bit of time betrween this initial technology trial and consumers in Canada going to one of the mobile carriers” and getting LTE service.”
Bell’s Smithers said that “we don’t expect any [Canadian] carrier to launch [LTE] until at least 2012” because its a complex new technology.
Which raises the question of why this announcement is being made now? Goldberg believes part of the answer lies in the press release that Rogers and Ericsson issued, which quotes Ericsson’s president and CEO. To Goldberg, it means Ericsson was pushing the announcement to tout the work of its Ottawa wireless lab.
“The first part (of the testing) was very much lab-based,” Mark Henderson, CEO of Ericsson Canada, said in an interview. “Now we’re extending that … We’re going to deploy a number of (antenna) sites across the urban, suburban and rural area around Ottawa and testing interoperability with Rogers’ HSPA network, system performance and system reliability.”
LTE promises downloads speeds — under ideal conditions – of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more, although users will likely see speeds much less than that. The version of HSPA+ that Canadian carriers are currently using hits 21 Mpbs under ideal circumstances. However, Telus Corp. will start 42 Mpbs in selected areas early next year.
Canadian carriers have been cautious about when they’ll move to LTE because HSPA can be torqued up relatively easily to near 100 Mpbs. Carriers here also are reluctant to jump to LTE before a good range of handsets are available — in fact none of them have HSPA+ capable handsets. Right now most LTE devices are limited to USB dongles for laptops.
“Our customers increasingly want anywhere, anytime access to information, communications, entertainment and transactional experiences on their device of choice,” said Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed in a news release. “LTE is the next generation platform delivering superior mobile speed and functionality similar to what Canadians currently experience at home and at work. This technical trial is significant because it builds on our industry-leading networks and it sets the groundwork for our customers to do even more in the future.”
Rogers’ announcement comes the same day as Verizon Wireless said it will launch LTE service in 39 U.S. markets, including New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. That’s 14 more cities than Verizon previously said it would launch with during 2010.
Verizon said users of its LTE network will see download speeds of 5 to 12 megabits Mbps and upload speeds of 2-5 Mbps.
Eriscson is a supplier to both Verizon and MetroPCS as well as to TeliaSonera, operator of the world’s first commerical LTE network, in Norway and Sweden.