Saturday 22 January 2011

HSPA Availability

Someone asked if the capability to access broadband (high-speed Internet) using 3G HSPA technology is only available through the Bell site at Desbarats.

The answer is no.

All Bell and most Rogers sites along the highway 17 corridor provide HSPA  service. Both vendors sell #3 HSPA data hubs and data sticks These maps from the respective vendors and should be considered optimistic. The actual reception in any area is dependent upon a number of factors including but not limited to system availability and capacity, customer's equipment, signal strength, topography and environmental conditions. Each user location has to be considered independently.

Similar technology is coming to the North Sault area in the near future.

Bell Coverage Map 


Rogers Coverage Map


Tuesday 18 January 2011

Impact of HSPA Only Sites

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.

Generation/Technology Matrix



















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-√†-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.

Current Situation

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.

Data Speeds

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.

Friday 7 January 2011

Shaw Cellular Telephone

There is a lot of chatter on the techy networks that Shaw Communications out of Calgary will enter the cellular wars as early as 01 Sep 11. Over the last few months the rumours have grown stronger.
An interesting facet of the latest buzz is that Shaw will bypass 3G technology and operate from the onset using 4G technology.

Shaw won frequencies in the so-called “D” band at  1735-1740 MHZ  and 2135-2140 MHZ during the 2008 spectrum auction in the Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie areas.

Going directly to 4G only makes a lot of sense as it gives a major head start on the incumbents who are only in the 4G test stage. It also removes the need to expend resources on providing infrastructure on what is quickly becoming dated technology. As I noted in my post regarding the Desbarats tower, Bell is no longer installing 2G/2.5G CDMA in spite of fairly large customer base.

Unlike the other new entrants in the cellular market place such as Wind, Public and Mobilicity who are targeting basic voice and data user, Shaw is likely to take the Vid√©otron approach of offering the professed holy grail -  bundles with cellular/Internet/TV and landline (VoIP) all from one supplier.

It will be interesting to watch what happens over the next few months

Update: 04 Jun 11 - Shaw announced it will not be introducing cellular anywhere until 2012.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Bell Cellular Site at Desbarats Operational

As reported in my entry about the Desbarats tower last month the site was indeed commissioned as planned on 23 Dec 10. However, over the holiday  period, locals continued to tell me that this was not the case. It seemed the only things working were the warning lights. I was not able to get clarification until my contacts (at least the ones I have faith in) returned to work after New Years. 

My contact told me he was seeing both voice and data traffic at the new site. After a few back and forth messages, the light went on; he kept identifying it as HSPA voice and data traffic so I asked what was now the blindingly obvious question: – Is the new site both CDMA and HSPA compatible?

The answer is no it isn’t – it is 3G HSPA only. An older type of Bell or Telus phone cannot get service off the tower. A new Smartphone, Turbo stick or Turbo hub is required.

Thus to access (or see) the new Desbarats tower, you will need a HSPA phone or a dual mode Bell HSPA/CDMA phone. If you cannot get a signal from the tower then you are likely using a CDMA (also called 2G or 2.5G) only phone. As far as I know the data hubs sold by Bell work in the HSPA mode and should see the tower. However be careful if you buy a used data stick as there are CDMA only models in circulation.

I suspect that this policy of HSPA sites only will apply to any future Bell sites activated.