Rogers launches super-fast mobile service in Ont. region

Rogers Wireless Inc. has pulled ahead in mobile data speeds by announcing the launch of High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) service on its cellular network in the Golden Horseshoe region of southern Ontario.

With access through the AirCard 860 from Sierra Wireless Inc. of Richmond, B.C., computers will be able to receive data at speeds of 600 kilobits per second to one megabit per second. The rival 1X Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) technology offered by Bell Canada and Telus Corp. provides typical speeds of 400 to 700 kilobits per second. (The theoretical top speeds of both HSDPA and EV-DO are higher.)

Upstream speeds are lower. Mansell Nelson, vice-president of business development at Rogers, says HSDPA will let computers and other mobile devices transmit data to the network at around 300 kilobits per second.

According to Nelson, the speed of HSDPA promises “a very office-like experience” for road warriors using their laptops to send and receive e-mail and communicate with office-based applications on the road. Although personal digital assistants like Research in Motion Inc.’s BlackBerry deliver quite a good e-mail experience on slower networks like Rogers’ existing Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE), he says, laptops are not as fully optimized for mobile use, and will benefit from higher speed.

“We’ve crossed a line where applications running at HSDPA speeds just seem to react the way they do on your desktop,” claims Greg Speakman, director of product management for Sierra’s AirCard and mobile products.

Speakman expects customers to use the service for e-mail, Web access and access to corporate applications, and he says that while basic e-mail works well enough at lower speeds, those who regularly receive sizeable attachments such as PowerPoint files will notice the difference.

“It’s not real quick to download that sort of thing under EDGE,” says Speakman, “while on HSDPA, it’s fast and easy.”

Carrie MacGillivray, an analyst at the Kanata, Ont., office of Boston-based telecommunications research firm Yankee Group, predicts access to corporate databases, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and more advanced sales force automation tools will help drive the demand for faster mobile data services.

Yet Brian Sharwood, telecommunications industry analyst at research firm SeaBoard Group Inc. in Toronto, is skeptical about the need for speed. “There are a lot of business applications, but most of them don’t use massive amounts of data,” Sharwood says. “There’s not a lot that you need a super high-speed connection for that you might be willing to pay for at the rates that they’re charging.”

As for consumer applications, Sharwood says, watching video on mobile devices might have some potential, but the question is whether many people are willing to pay for mobile access to video. “People pay for voice,” he says, “whereas TV is seen to be kind of free.”

Nelson says there are potential business applications for video over HSDPA. Security video is an emerging application for mobile networks, he says — since the 2001 terrorist attacks, “there is a desire to be putting cameras up in places where traditionally it’s been pretty hard to get a cable modem or DSL in there.”

MacGillivray also sees potential applications for video in some specific industries, such as insurance and construction.

Rogers is offering the AirCard 360 for $49.99 with the purchase of a three-year wireless data plan, or $349.99 with a one- or two-year plan. Rogers’s data plans range from $15 per month for a starter plan up to $100 a month for a plan including 200 megabytes of data traffic monthly. With its $60 and $100 plans, Rogers is offering three months of unlimited e-mail and Web access.

Initially, Rogers is offering HSDPA from Oshawa to Niagara Falls, Ont., including the Greater Toronto Area. According to a spokesperson, the company plans to roll out service to other major Canadian centres in 2007.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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