For months, Bell and Telus have said their new HSPA-based wireless network will beready for customers in “early 2010.” But most observers suspect theywant to have it running in Vancouver at least by Feb. 12, whenthousands will cram that city for the start of the Winter Olympics.That's because international tourists will be eagerly racking uplong-distance and data charges sending photos and videos from theirsmartphones – and some will be toting HSPA handsets. Bell and Telus, asCDMA-based carriers, had to leave that revenue to Rogers. Well, todaythat target for the new network was confirmed in a Bell press releaseabout its second quarter results.The releasetouted the telco's recent investments in projects, “including thenational HSPA 3G network rolling out in time for the 2010 Winter Gamesin Vancouver.” At the same time, Bell announced a reciprocal roamingdeal with U.S. operator AT&T, whose GSM network will beginswitching HSPA at the end of this year. A lot of Americans will be inVancouver, which means Bell-Telus will get a nice piece of the actionfrom those with AT&T HSPA-enabled phones, such as the newiPhone3GS. When the new Bell-Telus network opens, it will mean the endof Rogers' Canadian monopoly on international roaming from GSM/HSPAcarriers. The new Bell-Telus HSPA network won't handle GSM-only phones,but as the world increasingly goes HSPA they will see moreinternational reveune.
There's no word on whether Bell-Teluswill get their hands on the real prize, which is the ability to sellApple's wildly popular iPhone. For Bell and Telus, switching to HSPA isvery much about getting a better selection of smartphones than CDMAoffers. So far Rogers has a monopoly on iPhones, which generates lotsof revenue for it (and for AT&T, the sole iPhone carrierthere). For now, Bell president and CEO can only look forward to aGSM/HSPA version of the upcoming Palm Pre, which Bell will startselling Aug. 27 for its existing CDMA network. “We've never had aresponse on our Website like we're seeing now in terms of bringing thePalm to the market,” he told financial analysts in a conference call,”so hopefully that bodes well for the company.” Bell has exclusiverights to sell the CDMA version of the Pre here. A GSM/HSPA versiongoes on sale in Europe in December. Presumably, it will be on Bell'sshelves when the new network debuts.
HSPA, of course, means morethan roaming revenue. It means for demanding users faster data speeds– perhaps as much as 48 Mpbs downlink — in addition to a path to the100 Mbps-plus LTE technology in the near future. Which is why Copenoted that wireless data revenue was the strongest in the quarter everfor the telco, shooting up 28 per cent over Q1. It now accounts for 17per cent of average revenue per user, which is why Cope said Bell “lookforward to the launch of HSPA even accelerating that data growth.”
Bellis feeling upbeat enough about the company's finances that that it willincreased he quarterly dividend by 5 per cent starting in October. Whenone analyst asked if that could be sustained, in particular because newwireless operators are about to start up, the CEO spoke aboutcontaining costs and other boring stuff. But he also said he's”optimistic and very bullish, in fact, on the launch of our HSPAnetwork and the strategic moves we've made over the last year in ourwireless business that we will be getting our proportionate share ofrevenue.”
Some other nuggets: You may recall that earlier in theyear Bell bought The Source electronic stores as well as it's half ofVirgin Mobile cellphone partnership. Cope said Thurday that Bell TV,the company's satellite offering, will be offered in 500 The Sourcestores by the end of the year. Video is a key product that can bebundled with broadband Internet and wireless to subscribers, to combatsimilar cable-based offerings from Rogers and Videotron. Bell TVrevenues were up 9.3 per cent in Q2.
Also, Cope acknowledgedthat he's keeping an eye on Bell Aliant's project to bring fibre to the home (FTTH) in Federicton and SaintJohn, N.B. Fibre to all homes is the way telcos can keep upwith cable Internet speeds and offer IPTV instead of satellite. At least one industry analyst believes Bellmust embrace IPTV to survive. However, FTTH can befrightfully expensive. In the U.S., Verizon has budgeted US$24 billionto bring fibre to all homes it serves. So far, Bell (and Telus) arelimiting fibre to homes only in new construction, leaving fibre tonetwork nodes in other areas. Whether they'll bring it to all homeswill depend on the Aliant experiment. Cope said Bell is watching “verycarefully.”