First Large-scale 4G Commercial Deployment in Canada


Barrett Xplore has become the first operator in Canada to commercially launch a large-scale WiMAX/4G network. The network, which was announced for the first time in October 2010, became commercially available in February 2011 in selected areas of Québec, and a launch is also planned in Ontario in the near future. Although the company has not announced its deployment roadmap for these two provinces, we anticipate that they will also launch in several other provinces where they have spectrum holdings, such as Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories. On average Barrett has 40 MHz of spectrum in these areas.

The network is running in the 3.5 GHz spectrum using RAN equipment and devices from Alvarion, and is based on the 802.16e-2005 standard. One potential concern for Barrett Xplore is the recent announcement from Alvarion to put more focus on the vertical market than the carrier market. If Alvarion decides to stop investing or to decrease its activity in the broadband access division, this could impact Barrett Xplore’s performance and deployment.

In the past we have heard about WiMAX deployments by other Canadian operators, however some of those deployments were just trials that never reached the commercial stage, such with Primus and Mipps with Motorola in 2007. Others remained pre-WiMAX deployments using proprietary equipment (Expedience from Motorola) such as the Inukshuk Wireless’ current network (the result of the partnership between Rogers Wireless and Bell Canada started in 2005-2006), operating in the 2.5 GHz band. There are a couple of other very small WiMAX deployments covering a few select areas, such as ABC Communications, which offers 3.5 GHz WiMAX service in a number of communities in the interior of British Columbia, or Craig Wireless, which has deployments in Vancouver and elsewhere in the province of British Columbia.

Barrett Xplore started its operations in 2004 deploying license-exempt equipment from Motorola Canopy. In 2007, Barrett acquired licensed spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and started deploying Motorola expedience. The carrier uses a combination of fixed wireless and satellite technologies and it is particularly focused on non-urban, rural, and remote residences and businesses. Users can reach transfer speeds of up to 5 Mbps. Although with its new WiMAX network Barrett Xplore will be capable to offer more speed to its users, its main focus will not be speed, but to make affordable volumes of data available for the same price, since the network has much more capacity. The network is capable of providing up to 40 Mbps downlink in theory, but in practice, closer to 5 Mbps.

As with most wireless operators worldwide, Barrett has faced data traffic issues in both its wireless and satellite networks. The operator informed us that rural subscribers are demanding as much broadband from them as they do in urban centers with wireline technologies (cable, DSL, FTH). Rural subscribers are consuming between 10-12 GB per month on the fixed wireless network – even more than Clearwire’s 4G subscribers are consuming in United States, at around 7GB per month; however Barrett Xplore is not offering mobility as Clearwire does.

Barrett however is confident about the capacity of its new WiMAX network and is not imposing any usage restrictions on it: “we are setting a price linked with bandwidth and unlimited usage. Our pricing is in the CDN$45-60 range, depending on the package, but of course the price could be higher if the user needs more bandwidth,” commented Allison Lenehan, Chief Strategy Officer. We believe this approach could work well for quite some time, however, overtime Barrett Xplore will need to implement some traffic management alternatives, such as usage-caps, to overcome the explosive growth of data traffic, especially in developed countries.

The initial stage of Barrett Xplore’s network is a fixed-antenna deployment. CPEs and base stations are supplied by Alvarion, while the core network deployed is an open architecture from Tellabs that allows an upgrade to LTE if the operator decides to do so. Other devices could become available in later stages of deployment including USB dongles, PCMCIA cards and others. Barrett Xplore has 600 towers installed at this point from Motorola’s solution Expedience Canopy, but an additional 600 pure 4G towers will be installed this year. The company intends that over a period of time, as they build out in new regions, they will also upgrade existing proprietary towers and subscribers to 4G. 

MARAVEDIS is a leading analyst firm focusing on disruptive technologies including smart networks using 4G, LTE, WiMAX

Author: Cintia Garza, Team Leader 4GCounts & Market Analyst CALA

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