Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bell lights LTE network

Bell lights LTE network
By Michael Lewis
Bell Mobility Inc. has launched a super-fast wireless network in southern Ontario, but users will have to wait until smartphones are available that can take full advantage of the leading edge infrastructure.
At this point, modem sticks are the only means to connect laptop computers with the fourth generation Bell network that is based on the long-term evolution standard. Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility, said tablets and “superphones” will be available on the network in addition to the sticks before the end of the year.

Even then, analysts expect a limited selection of largely Android devices. They also note that costs of the data plan Bell is offering via its modem sticks can add up dramatically.
The LTE Sierra Wireless U313 Turbo Stick sticks are available for online purchase for $79.95 on a three-year term ($219.95 with no term contract); and in Bell stores across LTE service areas, which include Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph. Oosterman called the cities key centres of the “wireless ecosystem.”
Fourth-generation LTE flex-rate data plans start at $45 a month for 1.5 gigabytes, which automatically adjusts based on data usage.
“That’s not cheap,” said Info-Tech Research Group analyst Mark Tauschek “I guarantee some people are going to get burned. “
He said the plan would mean costs of about $200 a month for 20 gigabytes of data, an amount easy to consume given that the stick is the users’ primary Internet connection.
“It’s probably best to wait a little bit to see what kinds of devices become available and to see how these plans evolve,” Tauschek said, adding that competition between Bell Mobility, a unit of Montreal based BCE Inc., and rival Rogers Communications Ltd. may bring prices down.
Oosterman said the plans are sufficient for normal, everyday use, but very heavy users of data will have to pay more.
Toronto-based Rogers, the only LTE provider in Canada other than Bell, launched its LTE network in Ottawa in July and expects to activate LTE in Toronto at the end of September.
The launches position Bell and Rogers in a competition for early adapters of the latest wireless network technology, with Tauschek saying the rollouts are an exercise in branding and technology marketing.
Oosterman said the goal is to be ahead of consumer and business demand for wireless data, which he called insatiable.
“People want access to the entertainment, to the business information at the time and place of their choosing at the location where they are and on the screen they happen to have with them. Growth is just exploding,” he said in an interview after the launch Wednesday.
He said the networks “will deliver amazing data access speeds — at least three times faster than the Bell HSPA+ network originally launched less than three years ago.”
Oosterman said the new standard will allow for seamless video-streaming and other applications requiring Internet speeds usually associated with desktop connections.
The company said it expects typical speeds for the network to be between 12 and 25 megabits per second. Bell’s HSPA+ network offers typical speeds of 3.5 to 8 megabits per second and 7 to 14 megabits per second in areas where it offers HSPA+ with dual carrier technology.
Bell brands its LTE network 4G, the same description it has been applying to its existing HSPA+ networks, which Tauschek said are actually 3.5G.
Bell also said devices will switch to the next fastest speed available when outside LTE areas.
The company said it will launch LTE in additional Canadian markets, starting with urban areas, later this year and through 2012. It said the timing of its rollout in rural areas depends on the outcome of Industry Canada’s 700 megahertz spectrum auction.
The 700 megahertz band of airwaves, formerly used by analog TV, was freed up when Canada made the switch to digital TV on Aug. 31. Bell and other large wireless carriers want to be able to bid in an open auction.
However, there is a possibility that part of the spectrum could be set aside for newer wireless entrants to boost competition. Industry Canada has not yet indicated what rules it will set for the auction.

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