Rogers Wireless makes living on the EDGE

Rogers Wireless Inc. recently announced the national rollout of its Enhanced Data rates for General packet radio services (GPRS) Evolution service, which provides throughput of anywhere from 90 to 170 Kilobits per second, depending on the application.

It improves on GPRS, which provided

transfer rates of only about 50 Kbps.

Rogers started EDGE trials in the Vancouver area last November and has since made the technology available to 93 per cent of the Canadian population through a software upgrade on its GPRS network.

Its first EDGE product is the Sony Ericsson GC-82 PC Card. Third-generation (3G) wireless requires a network that will support 384 Kbps to pedestrians and 115 Kbps to users in moving vehicles.

Rogers Wireless’ vice-president of new product development David Neale spoke with Computing Canada about the EDGE service, what applications it will support and whether Rogers’ EDGE really meets the 3G standard.

Computing Canada: Can you confirm the top speed would normally be 200 Kilobits per second?

David Neale: Basically the top speed would be a function of the class of the device, so the fastest EDGE device can operate at eight time slots. Each time slot would be about 56 Kbps, so basically the top speed would be eight times 56 – that’s the theoretical maximum speed you get through eight time slots. The (Sony Ericsson) PC card comes out at four time slots, which means it can peak at over 236 Kbps. What we would expect is that you’d see consistent throughput, at around 90 Kbps, you will see it spike at 170K, sometimes over 200K, so that gives you some idea of the actual user experience.

That 90 Kbps that we’re citing uses something such as Web browsing, which, shall we say, is not the most efficient of things. When you start to use things such as Citrix, and you’re starting to use a (virtual private network) connection, you will see better performance even than Web browsing.

If I look at the definition of 3G technology, we’ll generally talk about this 115 Kbps in a mobile environment, 384 Kbps in a portable environment, which makes the technology compliant, because it has that capability.

CC: My understanding is the 384 Kbps would refer to somebody with an EDGE card, so with the Sony Ericsson model, you actually wouldn’t be 3G compliant?

DN: No, because it won’t support eight time slots. GC-82 is taking four time slots, so you’re correct, it would be running at a peak of 230K, which would not be 384K, but it will do the 115K in a mobile environment. There are devices that are running at eight time slots. A lot of these devices will use as many time slots as are available to them, which means they could be peaking at the 3G speeds. To your point, the technologies are 3G-compliant but the devices don’t necessarily deliver the peak 3G speeds quite yet.

CC: Does Rogers have any plan for a next step for your 3G offerings? You now have EDGE to 93 per cent of the Canadian population. Are you going to wait and see how the adoption is?

DN: Yes, generally we base all of the technology upgrades on commercial viability. When it comes to a technology upgrade, it’s usually best for us to allow some of the big network players to actually go through the initial rollout phase.

We’ll probably be in the experimental phase, but commercially, we’d wait until there was a proven viable market there. So at the moment, we know from our experience that people were looking for better than the data throughput they were getting from ourselves and from the other guys. They were looking for more stability and what we saw from the EDGE trial out West was exactly that, which is the reason we were encouraged to go ahead and do the overlay.

CC: Based on the EDGE trials you did in the Vancouver area, and other feedback you’ve received, do you have any predictions as to what the initial markets will be? Will it be mainly some of these vertical applications using Citrix?

DN: My expectation is the very first people that will see a benefit for this will be those that had been somewhat disappointed with their experiences to date. We did see that GPRS and 1X users, and when they moved to EDGE and tried the GC-82 they did notice a definite improvement, and that’s why we were encouraged to go ahead and do the release.

CC: Are you looking at vertical-specific applications as opposed to e-mail or just simply wanting to send large attachments?

DN: We expect the application would initially be enterprise. It’s probably wireless desktop access.

It might be through a vertical application provider such as Citrix, or it might be for an enterprise-wide e-mail type deployment, in which case you could use reasonably standard e-mail clients and you could run it over a virtual private network.

CC: What are some of the technical challenges that were involved in rolling EDGE out nationwide, overlaying it on your GSM/GPRS network?

DN: The beauty of it was, there was very little technical challenge at all, for two reasons. One, because the EDGE upgrade on the base stations you might argue was software, so it was, for all intents and purposes, flipping a switch.

The other thing (with) EDGE itself is there are quite a large number of EDGE networks that have been turned up, so there is great benefit when we can work with our vendor, Ericsson, and the experience they have had. Aside from the time and effort involved, it was no great challenge. That’s one of the reasons we chose to do it.

CC: Since (the GC-82) was the first in a series of products, can you comment in general on what we could expect to see in the future?

DN: You might expect that the minute we have access to better bandwidth, we have better access to more graphical-type applications. You’re going to see more featured handsets take advantage of that faster bandwidth.

You can draw your own conclusions as to what some of the products might be, but generally much more graphical, generally faster and of course the primary service that’s on the phone, which is voice, is not affected in any way at all.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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