Just recently Industry Canada auctioned off new cellular spectrum in the 700 MHz range. All of the big three purchased segments of this spectrum across the country for future implementation. While it gives the providers more spectrum to play with, one of the most often-cited advantages of 700 MHz over existing AWS and 2600 MHz bands for LTE is that it has greater in-building penetration and can travel further in rural environments.
However, these new chunks of spectrum provide only 5 MHz of bandwidth, which means any LTE implemented on 700 MHz (band 17) has only a theoretical maximum speed of just 37.5 Mbps. This compares to 75 Mbps on AWS (band 4, which has 10 MHz of bandwidth) and 150 Mbps on 2600 MHz (band 7, which has 20 MHz of bandwidth). Clearly then, band 17 isn’t going to set any new speed records.
On April 3rd, 2014 Bell Mobility decided to get a little publicity out being the “first” to deploy 700 MHz service. However, this entailed adding 700 MHz service to just 5 sites in Upper Hamilton, Ontario, which represented only 25% of the sites they have in that part of the city. It’s therefore unclear what this is supposed to demonstrate. If they’d wanted to show that 700 MHz penetrated buildings better, then this setup has a serious flaw.
When only a small number of sites are deployed, the output of them must be increased to better fill in the spaces in-between. This makes these sites seem stronger when tested close-by, but far weaker when tested further away. No real test of in-building penetration can be performed...
until all of the sites have 700 MHz channels and those channels are tuned accordingly.
While arguably they have to start somewhere (and for some reason Hamilton was one of the first places that Bell deployed LTE a number of years ago), the company appears to be using this extremely limited rollout as a publicity stunt. To some extent they should get a little mileage out of this news release, but much depends upon how the media reports on it.
US readers will find this a little puzzling, because AT&T has been using band 17 since they first launched LTE. Canadian providers on the other hand didn’t have access to this spectrum at that time and have instead deployed LTE in the AWS band (1700/2100 MHz) and at 2600 MHz (bands 4 and 7 respectively).
But does your current LTE phone have access to band 17? Chances are it does, because except for a small handful of LTE handsets, all of them support band 17. In Canada this is principally because we get the same phones that are destined for AT&T, and they’ve required band 17 support since the beginning.
In the end, the deployment of 700 MHz in Canada will probably be rather anti-climatic, especially in urban settings. The greatest benefits will be felt in far-flung rural areas, though top speeds won’t be especially high compared to areas that have access to 2600 MHz LTE service. The summer of 2014 should prove to be interesting as all of the big three deploy 700 MHz across their networks. Perhaps later on I can report on the true impact of the new band.