The country’s wireless war picked up pace this week with announcements from two carriers.
After a vigorous competition, Shaw Communications Inc. has chosen Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) as the access and core equipment provider for the Calgary-based cable company’s new wireless service.
As a result, an NSN official said Wednesday, the company will be hiring more full time and contract staff.
Meanwhile Rogers Communications Inc. said it will launch a new low-end brand called Chatr with unlimited talk and text plans similar to those initiated by startups Public Mobile and Mobilicity.
Public Mobile has a $24 a month unlimited local talk plan and a $40 a month unlimited local call and North American text plan. Mobilicity has a $15 a month plan including unlimited local calling between Mobilicity subscribers and unlimited
North America text. A $35 a month plan includes unlimited local voice and North American text. Wind Mobile $15 a month plan includes unlimited calling to another Wind subscriber in the five cities it currently operates in and unlimited incoming texts. Otherwise it includes 100 voice minutes across the province and 50 free outgoing texts to anywhere in North America.
Chatr, which won’t offer data plans, will be separate from Rogers’ value Fido line and will likely launch just before the back to school season.
None of Fido’s plans has unlimited local calling. Its $15 a month plan has unlimited incoming text plus 50 local voice minutes.
To avoid confusion with its main line and Fido, Chatr’s unlimited service will operate within defined zones.
Shaw’s choice of NSN means the equipment maker will be part of three of the biggest networks in the country. NSN supplies half the access gear of BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada and Telus Corp. new HSPA+ networks. (China’s Huawei Technologies Co., shares the other half of the contract). When completely built out, the Shaw wireless network will span B.C, Alberta, Manitoba and part of Northwestern Ontario. NSN also supplies base stations, controllers and software to startup Wind Mobile.
During a conference call with financial analysts Wednesday, Shaw executives said the company has set aside $100 million for the network. It didn’t say if service will be launched in select cities first or across all the geographies it has spectrum at the same time. However, Quebec cableco Videotron Ltee has said it will spend upwards of $500 million to build its new province-wide wireless service, set to start this summer.
Shaw hopes to start wireless service at the end of next year, bundling it with cable, VoIP and Internet service.
“We’re delighted with the opportunity to serve Shaw,” Susan Schramm, who heads NSN’s North American marketing and corporate affairs office, said in an interview Wednesday. She said the contract was won after “fierce” competition from other equipment suppliers, likely Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and LM Ericsson.
This is not the first contract NSN has with Shawn. The company has been selling Shaw its VoIP soft switches for over five years.
After some statements from Shaw executives, there has been speculation that the cableco will skip the most common wireless technology, UTMS/HSPA, and go straight to the leading-edge LTE service, which promises data speeds up to 100 Gpbs. Right now the Canadian carriers offering HSPA+ say it will go up to 21 Mbps under ideal conditions.
No handset maker has an LTE phone for North American frequencies, and while Verizon Wireless in the U.S. is expected to start commercial LTE service late this year in select American cities it hasn’t announced a handset yet. So initially, customers will only have data cards and USB models for mobile devices.
That could change when AT&T launches its LTE service in 2011, expanding the demand for handsets so that by the end of the year it might be worthwhile for Shaw to jump to LTE.
Schramm appeared to dampen that speculation by saying the Shaw contract “is allowing them to leverage their current fixed assets into a converged offering deploying our 3G access and core [equipment].”
Later she added that the Shaw network “will be fully 3G and LTE-capable.”
Now NSN will work with the cableco on its network build plans.
Asked if NSN has new equipment now Shaw can take advantage of since it built the Bell/Telus network a year ago, Schramm said its platforms continue to evolve and all of its customers are able to take advantage of that. The biggest difference, she added, is they each have their own assets – data centres, billing software and so forth – to leverage.