Cell Canada

Canadian Cellular Industry News, Insight, & Noise

GSM in Canada: Bell, Telus & The New AWS Carriers

Posted by Gary on August 6, 2008

Canada is soon to be flush with GSM technology based carriers.  This, along with the upcoming significant increase in new carriers born out of the AWS auction, is great news for Canadian mobile consumers. 

The mobile industry, like many technology driven industries, is a global industry.  Global demand and market share dictate priorities for research and development expenditures.  GSM has taken a significant lead in global market share over CDMA technology.  This lead has grown from 55% global market share for GSM in the year 2000 to over 85% of global market share in the year 2006.  A good amount of this growth has come as fast growing mobile markets such as China and India have chosen the GSM standard over CDMA.  The last remanants of CDMA carriers, primarily those in North America and South Korea have begun to indicate that they will be moving over to GSM technology standards in their next set of network evolution investment.  In fact, evolution of the CDMA technology has been effectively halted after the release of EVDO Rev.B.  The outstanding question for most CDMA carriers is whether they wait and suffer competitively relative to GSM carriers for two or three years until GSM 4G LTE technology is commercially available in 2010/2011 or whether they undertake a significantly capital intensive two step approach and move to UMTS, 3G GSM, now and then step to LTE in 2011/2012/2013.

In the USA, Verizon has publicly stated that it will be shifting to the GSM technology camp by overbuilding its network with LTE as soon as it is commercially available.  In Canada, it is well known in the industry that Telus and Bell have issued a joint RFP for UMTS and are currently field trialing the technology from the four short listed vendors.  They will certainly move to GSM technology though whether they do it in two steps, UMTS first then LTE, or in one step, wait for LTE, is not known. 

The new AWS auction based cellular carrier entrants; Shaw, Videotron, Bragg, DAVE, and Globalive, will all certainly come to market with UMTS based services, starting sometime in late 2009.  Initially, as they build out their networks, they will offer services delivered via resale of the Rogers UMTS network.

What does this mean for consumers? 

For one thing, this means that Rogers will no longer have technology based exclusives on the best phones.  Hot new devices such as the iPhone, Blackberry Bold, etc. will be available on all networks at once – whether through the locked phone market or the unlocked phone market.  This loss of GSM phone exclusivity will force better handset and plan offers from Rogers otherwise they will risk losing customers to the other carriers.  As we discussed in 10 Tips For Saving on Your Cell Phone Bill, it is best to avoid 3-year contracts that lock you into high prices in advance of the upcoming increased competition. 

Additionally consumers will be able to change phones by simply moving their SIM to a new phone.  As in Europe and Asia, there will be a competitive aftermarket for unlocked GSM phones on the North American spectrum blocks. 

A similar benefit in reverse is the ability to keep your physical phone but purchase a temporary in-country SIM when travelling to avoid roaming costs.  We discuss tips for saving on roaming in 10 Tips for Saving on Your Cell Phone Bill as well.

At Cell Canada, we are very excited about finally getting competitive access to some of the best phones in the world at dramatically better phone and plan pricing.  Bring on the Nokia N96, the Blackberry Bold, the Apple iPhone, Sony Ericsson Xperia1, and the other upcoming great phones with plans on any of six carriers in our local market.

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