Telus and Bell prepare 3G wireless appetizers

This week both Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility, the wireless divisions of Bell Canada and Telus Corp. respectively, announced that their competing third generation (3G) networks are now partially available, and will achieve national coverage in early 2002.

Both networks are based on the CDMA2000 1xRTT standard which offers data speeds as fast as 144 kilobits per second (kbps), or about 10 times current wireless speeds. The 144 kbps rate meets the accepted 3G standards for mobile environments, though full 3G adherence requires 384 kbps for low speed access, and 2 megabits per second for fixed environments.

Bell Mobility has now completed technical trials and made its 3G mobile network available to about several hundred partners and corporate customers in the Greater Toronto Area, said Charlotte Burke, the company’s vice-president of market development.

“Our footprint when we go commercial around Toronto is really a very large area that rolls around the Golden Horseshoe (the western end of Lake Ontario, from the Niagara Region to Oshawa). Then when we turn up a new network in western Canada, we’ll turn it up with the 1X technology ready. . . . For the major cities and metropolitan areas in the Bell Mobility territory, we’ll be up in the first quarter (of 2002) or very soon afterwards, then we’ll fill in the more rural and secondary cities as fast as we can build them throughout the remainder of the year,” Burke said.

Telus’ competing network will follow a similar testing and rollout pattern, and will also go national as soon as possible, said Mark Langton, a Toronto-based company spokesman. He also explained that although the arrival of Telus’ 3G network does not mark a communications revolution, it will ultimately enable a new generation of more sophisticated mobile applications.

“You’ll see location-based services where the network will know where you are and you can say ‘Where’s the nearest bank machine?’ or ‘Where’s the nearest office of this company?’ and it will give you give you directions graphically on your phone screen – we’re already trailing these kinds of things,” Langton said.

Although he prefers to characterize these 1xRTT wireless networks as “2.5G” – much faster than the digital wireless phones of the second generation of wireless communication, but not yet true 3G – Jeremy Depow, a Kanata, Ont.-based senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada agrees that the vastly increased speeds are promising. However, he suggested that it might take some time for Canadians to catch on to them in a big way.

“As most new technologies are when they are first introduced in the market, the most tech-savvy business people are the ones that will demand it the most. Therefore providers like Bell, Telus and Microcell (Solutions Inc.) will gear their marketing towards business solutions – solutions that complement existing enterprise wireless needs. Through that process the consumer market becomes more educated, prices start to drop, and then [the telcos] can go after the [consumer] portion of the market,” Depow said.

As the competition heats with Telus heats up in the scramble to sign up this generation of wireless users, Bell’s Burke hopes that subscribers will consider a whole range of factors – not just time-to-market.

“I’ve encouraged our corporate customers to make their decisions based on which carrier has the right application partners, and who’s proven in the past to bring meaningful applications to the market, and to some extent ignore the industry as we flex our press release muscles,” she said.

The Yankee Group in Canada is at

Telus Mobility is at

Bell Mobility is at

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