Rogers preps for 3G wireless with UTMS-HSDPA

Rogers Communications Thursday said it has a third-generation wireless service in the works and is beginning trials of the technology in the Toronto area.

The service will based on UMTS-HSDPA (Universal Mobile Telephone System – High Speed Downlink Packet Access), which is the latest iteration of the UMTS standard and can reportedly achieve download speeds of 14 megabits per second at peak rates.

“The technology itself is a broadband spectrum technology. The (UMTS) base technology has been deployed in various markets around the world, but the variation we’re deploying is the next thing that’s coming. We’re going straight to the latest version of this,” said Bob Berner, executive vice-president and CTO at Rogers Communications.

The company hasn’t announced any rollout plans beyond its initial trial phase, but Berner said the service should be available in major Canadian cities starting as early as next year.

Rogers’s hardware partner on the project is Ericsson Canada, which is supplying the necessary radio network controlling gear and UMTS switching gear.

Rogers will continue to support its existing 2G and 2.5G networks for the foreseeable future, said Berner, but “over time, we would expect that customers will self-select to the higher throughput capabilities,” especially as devices begin to support the 3G network.

Rogers’ chief rival in the cell phone market, Bell Canada, has plans for its own 3G service, called EVDO, over its CDMA network and began testing it earlier this year, also in the Toronto area.

Bell’s service is comparable to the network that Rogers is proposing, said Brian Sharwood, and analyst in the Toronto office of the SeaBoard Group. The two wireless giants will continue to fight for market share in the cell phone space as they migrate to higher-speed networks, he said, adding that Telus is also working on a 3G service on EVDO.

Where Rogers is ahead of the game is with its announcement that it is developing an IP-based service environment called IMS (IP Multimedia System), which would allow various devices to migrate from network to network without the user manually making the switch. The device, like a phone or laptop, could run off Wi-Fi, cellular, fixed wireless, or whatever network is convenient at the time.

“Our objective is make networks irrelevant to the customer. The relevance will be the service that the customer has,” said Berner.

“Internet Protocol control through this platform represents the glue between the services layer of the network and the transport layer, providing common functionality and service delivery regardless of the access methodology,” added Ericsson Canada president and CEO Mark Henderson.

Rogers is in an enviable position, said Sharwood, since it has a wireless network, a cable network and the fibre network it acquired when it bought Sprint Canada. “They’re not really protecting a wireline legacy. They are actually in a unique position from almost any carrier in the world.”

Rogers CEO Ted Rogers described a scenario at the launch of the company’s Voice-over IP launch in June of this year where a phone could theoretically move from a cellular network and on to a home network when a user steps through his front door.

“IMS allows that hand-off to take place,” explained Sharwood. “It’s sort of like least-call routing.”

Sharwood added that IMS would allow the carrier to eventually introduce other services, like controlling a personal video recorder (PVR) remotely from a cell phone, or viewing a recorded TV show on the phone itself.

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