Bell continues to make changes to its cellular network. Their newest site in our region was activated on 23 Dec 10 near Desbarats. This site only works with 3G HSPA technology.
There are two principal ways to designate cellular telephone capabilities:
1. Main modulating techniques. The two originals were called CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) originally used by Bell/Telus and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) originally used by Rogers. (Think of it in terms of Sony Beta and VHS – incompatible techniques that do the same job). They developed along parallel tracks in Canada until 2008 when Bell and Telus announced they would be converting to HSPA by 2011. (Again think of VHS beating back the Sony Beta challenge.) While both major networks use the same technology network access is not interchangeable. The next major technology upgrade will be to LTE (Long Term Evolution) for HSPA networks or WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) for CDMA based networks.
There is another technology called AWS (Advanced Wireless Service) being used by some of the new entrants in the market place. They are currently not available in Northern Ontario so will not be discussed in this article.
2. Generation. As major upgrades in each technology were made, they were referred to as generations or G for short. They are:
a. 1G – This generation provided the original standard. It was analogue.
b. 2G – This generation made the transition from analogue to digital.
c. 2.5G – This unofficial generation took advantage of digital capability to offer data transfer.
d. 3G – This generation provides high speed data capability to allow video streaming and other data extensive applications. It ushered in the era of the Smartphones.
e. 4G – This generation will increase the data speed to around 1GBps download.
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Note 1: As incremental improvements in the technology of each generation took place, modifiers were often added but the underlying technology remained the same. For example, as speeds increased HSPA became HSPA+ which in turn became HSPA x2 or Dual Cell HSPA.
Handsets and other Hardware
As of this time, handsets and hardware are unique to the network for which they were sold; a Bell/Telus handset will not work on the Rogers’s network and vice-à-versa. This should not be confused with roaming which allows a phone to operate on another network with the same technology if the operating agreements are in place.
Headsets and hardware are also defined by modes. Modes identify the generation and technology they are capable of operating within. Phones are classified from unimode to pentamode or 1 to 5 modes. Dual mode phones – analogue and digital were quite common at one time as were tri-mode phones.
Headsets and hardware are also defined by frequency bands. The various generations within each mode operate in different frequency bands. Some handsets can operate in up to five frequency bands.
Handsets do exist that combine both mode and bands but they are rare.
The newer Smartphones tend to be unimode as 3G HSPA is required to take advantage of the high data speeds and smart applications. This means that phones like the Apple iPhone will not operate on 2G/2.5 networks. Conversely, older model handsets will not operate on the HSPA networks.
When Bell and Rogers originally upgraded their networks from 2G to 3G, they used existing sites and left the 2G/2.5G equipment in place. In the case of Bell, this meant that the both the older CDMA based and newer 3G HSPA handsets could access the network through the same cell site.
With the addition of 3G HSPA only cell sites like Desbarats, this option is no longer available. People living within the coverage area of a 3G HSPA only cell sites will have to acquire 3G HSPA handsets or hardware to take advantage of the service.
On the positive side, 3G HSPA can provide broadband (high-speed Internet) service in area that currently does not have access to broadband service.
Both Bell/Telus and Rogers are actively testing LTE and it is expected there will be limited LTE capability in major urban areas within a year or so.
Trying to identify realistic data speeds for the various generation/mode offerings is a challenging task. It would seem the public pronouncements are driven by marketeers and not technology. While the ITU has defined the basics, they are generally ignored. Almost all advertising have escape clauses like “up to ‘x’ number of Mbps” or “subject to network congestion”. Field testing in the Algoma area shows that a download in the range of 4-5 Mbps can be expected at the present time. Follow the link on HSAP Access on the ADnet website to see some of the factors that affect data speed.