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LTE now in eight Canadian cities

Canada's biggest wireless carrier is now offering LTE service in three of the nation's biggest cities as operators try to out do each other in launching the next generation wireless technology.

On Wednesday Rogers Communications Inc. turned the switch on LTE networks in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, saying 5.5 million Canadians have access to the 4G wireless service. By the end of the year Rogers promises to expand to the suburbs of those three cities to cover 10 million people. The move is Rogers way of countering Bell Mobility, which earlier in the month launched LTE service in five cities in the Toronto area. The carriers, who are one-two in the number of wireless subscribers, still only offer USB modems for laptops for connectivity.

Rogers says that will change Oct. 18 when the 10-in. HTC Jetstream tablet becomes available, priced at CDN$499 on a three-year data plan ($799 without a plan). LTE smart phones from HTC and Samsung Inc. and a Sierra Wireless mobile hotspot will be available "in the coming weeks." The Samsung Galaxy S II LTE will sell for $199 on a three year data plan. Subscribers can pre-pay for the devices now. The Jetstream tablet can use an optional ($40 stylus) for annotating Web pages and applications, a feature the carrier believes makes it different from other tablets competitors will offer. The unit has 32 GB of storage, which can be expanded by another 32 GB via a microSD slot. The tablet can connect to the Rogers HSPA+ network if LTE isn't available.

To entice subscribers to the new service, Rogers has come up with a CDN$59.93 a month introductory plan that includes 10 Gigabytes of data. That plan will be offered until Nov. 28. The standard rate plans start at $45 a month for 1.5 GB of data. Both Bell and Rogers have promised to expand their LTE networks to major Canadian cities over the next year. Their early moves puts pressure on the number three wireless carrier, Vancouver-based Telus Corp., which says it will initiate commercial LTE service early next year. On the other hand the lack of handsets and tablets may negate the lead of Bell and Rogers.

Long term, there is no doubt Canadians will embrace and pay a premium for LTE so they can more easily cruise the Internet and download files on laptops, handsets and tablets.

But how eager are they now? Not very, according to an unscientific survey taken at a wireless trade show early this month.

Only five of 13 people randomly asked if they are planning to sign up for LTE said yes. Eight said no, including the president of a company that supplies carriers with the antennas and towers in their networks. "Three megabits per second is good enough for me right now," he said.

Of those who weren't interested two wanted to wait a year for prices of devices and data plans to drop, and one said he saw no need unless he had an Apple iPad. If there isn't enthusiasm among those interested in wireless, when will it come?

John Boynton, Rogers' executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, who met with reporters Wednesday, shrugged it off. "I think it's fairly typical. Even people who go to a (wireless) show there's going to be a portion who are early adopters, a portion who we call fast followers and a portion who are generalists and they lag a bit longer" in adopting technology.

It doesn't mean anything that they were in the wireless industry, he added. Those who use wireless mainly for email won't see a need for speed, he said, while those who download attachments or big files will feel differently.

Rogers and Bell say LTE customers should get download speeds averaging between 12 and 25 Mbps. Both say they will sell devices that default to their HSPA+ networks if LTE connectivity isn't available.


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