Shaw completes first 5G test as wireless players ramp up to build next-gen networks

Originally published by the Financial Post
Author: Emily Jackson

Shaw Communications Inc. has completed its first technical trial of 5G technology as Canada’s wireless giants ramp up their investments in the next-generation networks.

The Calgary-based communications company, which offers wireless service under the brand Freedom Mobile, announced Tuesday the successful test of pre-commercial equipment was completed in collaboration with Nokia Corp., CableLabs and Rohde & Schwarz.

“5G is set to completely transform the industry with faster wireless speeds that will help usher in the next industrial revolution and enable future technologies that we can only dream of today,” Shaw’s chief technology officier Zoran Stakic said in a statement.

Shaw follows the Big Three in announcing 5G tests as wireless players race to build 5G networks that are expected to power technologies like automated vehicles and smart cities.

BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. announced 5G trials in 2016, the same year Bell claimed Canada’s first successful 5G test with Nokia. Last month, Rogers Communications Inc. announced a partnership with Ericsson to run 5G trials in Ontario.

Shaw serves 1.3 million of Canada’s 31 million wireless subscribers. Its largest competitors each serve about 30 per cent of the market: Rogers has 10.5 million subscriptions, Bell has 9.2 million and Telus 8.9 million. Historically, Shaw’s network has lagged in both speed and reliability, although it has been investing in spectrum and upgrades since it purchased Wind Mobile in 2016.

Freedom may have been behind on 4G and LTE advanced networks due to limited spectrum, but getting in the 5G game will put its network on par with the big players from a technology standpoint, said Lawrence Surtees, principal analyst at IDC Canada.

“They’re in effect almost leapfrogging,” he said. “5G is a way for them to modernize, to beef up the whole network from the get-go.”

While 5G isn’t expected to fully roll out until 2020 or 2021, Surtees said it’s critical for companies — even smaller ones — to test now since the upgrade goes far deeper than more incremental moves from 2G to 3G to 4G. 5G architecture is fundamentally different. These software-defined networks are expected to improve efficiencies and save on operating costs while providing faster connections.

“It’s essential, it’s not just table stakes,” he said. “This is the year that the Canadian players really started to step up … their trials.”

He expects Canadian players will be at the forefront of global 5G deployment, praising the scale and scope of existing national networks.

Wireless has been the growth engine of Canada’s telecommunications sector, and Surtees forecasts that 5G will be important for that for the next five years and beyond. The question then becomes whether Freedom can shake the status quo when it comes to data packages and pricing, Surtees said.

“They have the most to gain and the least to lose.”

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