Montreal to host next-gen wireless trial

A group of North American PCS (personal communication service) providers are getting set for a trial of third-generation wireless technology in Montreal over the next few months.

Accessing data over wireless networks is understandably a hot topic. Mobile workers would love to be constantly up to date with the most recent information from the Internet or their corporate intranet. At the same time however, few are thrilled with the sluggish speeds available over existing wireless networks and that's where third-generation wireless comes in.

The technology to be tested in Montreal will blaze along at 384Kbit/sec in mobile environments and 2Mbit/sec in fixed environments, according to Claude Brisson, vice-president of business development for Microcell Connexions. Montreal-based Microcell is hosting the third-generation wireless trial on a chunk of spare spectrum made available by Industry Canada. Other members of the North American GSM Alliance, a group of Canadian and US digital wireless PCS carriers, will also participate.

Brisson said the initial trial is a technical trial only.

"We'll use the trial to measure the performance of the technology . . . and its ability to do data services." Any market acceptance trials would be held later, Brisson said.

The trial will be limited to a small area in downtown Montreal and will use only a handful of third-generation devices. Services to be trailed include Internet access, data access, video, images and multimedia.

Brisson noted third-generation wireless technology is still two to three years away from widespread adoption.

The Montreal trial will use wideband CDMA as the transport for the third-generation services. The technology will interoperate with all GSM systems, but not with IS-95 narrowband CDMA networks.

IS-95 operators are working on their own broadband CDMA variant for third-generation services. Brisson said there are ongoing discussions in standards bodies to bring the two wideband variants closer together, but he added that coming up with a universal air interface may not be possible.

Much of the equipment for the Montreal trial will be supplied by Nortel Networks.

Joe Sarnecki, vice-president and general manager of wireless networks in Canada for Nortel, said his company would like to see GSM and IS-95 operators come up with one standard for implementing third-generation wireless networks. But until that happens, Nortel will continue to work on third-generation equipment for both types of operators.

While Nortel will provide most of the third-generation wireless infrastructure gear, Panasonic will provide the end user devices. Nortel and Panasonic recently formed an alliance to develop third-generation equipment.

Sarnecki said most existing wireless networks support data transfer rates of 9.6Kbit/sec Some are getting up to 14.4Kbit/sec and 19.2Kbit/sec and compression techniques could eventually boost those speeds to 64Kbit/sec but that is about the fastest speed existing networks will be able to support.

According to Microcell's Brisson, the GSM Alliance is backing the trial in Montreal, because most major US cities have used all available spectrum for commercial services.

George Karidis, an analyst with The Yankee Group Canada, noted that it's still too early to tell how successful third-generation wireless networks might be.

"It's something that's a possibility and may be the vision of the future, but it's not necessarily something customers need in the next six months or the next year."

But Karidis added existing wireless networks could definitely use a boost in their data throughput rates.

"That's the big thing wireless doesn't offer right now," he said.

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