Bell Announces Upgrade to 3G GSM, Path to 4G

We first reported on rumors to this effect back in July, and today, in a buzzword laden press release barely discernible to commoners, Bell announced they will be upgrading their network with HSPA technology. This will expand the models of phones they are able to support and bring them in line with the GSM standard that has achieved near ubiquity outside of North America.

As it continues to expand and enhance its national 3G CDMA/EVDO service, Bell will also overlay this industry-leading network with HSPA technology, maximizing the latest-generation wireless options the company can offer customers across Canada.

Bell wireless customers will be able to choose between EVDO – already the dominant 3G standard in Canada and across North America – and HSPA, which is rapidly becoming the main platform with carriers outside North America. At the same time, overlaying HSPA on its national network will offer Bell the most efficient upgrade path to the 4G LTE broadband standard in coming years.

This is a very major upgrade, and is likely costing Bell chunks of cash, but it is a necessary one to stay competitive and pave the way for future upgrades. The release also mentions that the upgrade will give them a migration path to the 4G Long Term Evolution standard that will give us faster speeds and reasons to upgrade our phones in the mid-distant future.

You might recall that went the iPhone came to Canada, there was only one carrier they could go with: Rogers/Fido. Only they supported the GSM standard that the iPhone (and many other phones) required, as opposed to the CDMA standard that Telus and Bell uses. This change doesn’t mean that Bell will immediately begin carrying all these GSM phones, such things may be subject to carrier exclusivity agreements, but it does mean that it will be at least technically possible for these phones to work with Bell.

They don’t mention an exact timeline for the upgrade, but there is one quote:

“As the exclusive telecommunications partner to the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, we look forward to delivering these enhanced capabilities before Canada hosts the world in 2010.”

Nice job getting the Olympic sponsorship reference in, I know I’m looking forward to seeing a Bell ad every 3 minutes during the Olympics.  There’s a major incentive for them to ensure that the GSM upgrade is in place before the 2010 Winter Olympics. When Olympic athletes and visitors land in Vancouver and power up their (likely GSM) phone, which provider will it connect to and start roaming with? Will it be the exclusive Olympic partner, or will it be Rogers? The big countdown clock behind the Vancouver Art Gallery says they have 490 days to make it happen.