Bell Canada launches wireless speed war in Canada

Canada’s wireless carriers have a gift for subscribers in time for the holidays: A speed war.

It will begin Nov. 23 when BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility division pushes the maximum download speed of its HSPA+ wireless data network to 42 megabits per second from 21 Mbps in Toronto. Eventually it will spread to the rest of its network in Eastern Canada.

However, there’s a price: Subscribers will pay $10 a month extra to use the extra high-speed compatible devices.

Other carriers are expected to quickly follow with speed boosts. Bell’s partner on its national network, Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus Corp., announced it August it was starting to make its half of the network 42 Mbps-capable, although devices wouldn’t be available until early 2011. Telus is expected to follow Bell quickly with a 42 Mbps-capable USB modem for laptops this month.

Telus said a spokesman wasn’t available Thursday to comment on its plans. Nor was a spokesman available from cableco Rogers Communications Inc., which also has a national wireless network.

“By implementing HSPA+ Dual Cell technology, Bell Mobility offers clients the ability to access the Internet and other data services at what we believe are the fastest mobile data speeds commercially available from any wireless carrier in North America,” Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility & Residential Services, said in a news release.

In the U.S., T-Moble is expected to begin offering 42 Mpbs wireless data service on its network this year.

However, initially there will be only be one device sold by Bell to take advantage of the 42 Mpbs download speeds: the U547 TurboStick from Novatel Wireless Inc. The 42 Mbps speed is achievable only under ideal conditions. Most subscribers will see average download speeds of around 12 to 15 Mpbs.

In fact, no Canadian carrier sells an HSPA+ handset capable of leveraging the current maximum rate of 21 Mbps. By contrast T-Mobile has two HSPA-capable handsets, the HTC G2 and the MyTouch 4G. However they can only leverage speeds up to 14.4 Mbps.

HSPA (short for High Speed Packet Access) is an IP-based wireless data technology whose speeds can be boosted mainly with software. A carrier in Sweden has kicked its network up to 84 Mpbs, and telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson says one of its customers is testing speeds over 100 Mbps.

Considered a 3.5G technology, in addition to data speed HSPA’s other advantage is that it is a path for carriers to a fourth generation wireless technology called LTE Advanced, whose voice and data sides are IP-based. HSPA’s data side is IP-based, but still still uses packets for voice. An early version of LTE on which only the data side is IP-based, is just starting to be adopted by carriers around the world. The first in North America was MetroPCS. Verizon Wireless is expected to launch LTE service in select U.S. cities shortly, followed by AT&T next year.

LTE, which promises data speeds of well over 100 Mpbs, is currently beging tested by Bell, Telus and Rogers Communications, raising the question of whether they will push HSPA faster or leap to LTE.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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