A Canadian carrier has started testing LTE wireless technology, raising speculation about how soon operators here will follow U.S. providers in offering commercial service. Rogers Communications, which operates a national wireless network, said late Wednesday it has started comprehensive technical LTE trials in and around the Ottawa area with its equipment provider, Ericsson Canada.

However, Bob Berner, Rogers' vice-president of networks and chief technology officer, wouldn't say if the move means it is close to implementing the high-speed technology.

"The sooner we know how well it works, and under what circumstances and how it performs in various environments and multiple frequencies and how it interoperates with our dual band HSPA+ network, the more effectively we'll be able to roll that out," he said in an interview.

The live test will run for months, he added, initially on the 1700 Mhz and 2100 Mhz spectrum Rogers bought in the AWS spectrum, and, if it can get a temporary licence from Industry Canada, in the yet-to-be auctioned 700 Mhz spectrum. He gave the impression Rogers is in no rush to upgrade to LTE, saying it takes time to debug new technology.

That was echoed by telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg. "There's an awful lot of stuff that needs to be tested," he said. "There's a fair bit of time between this initial technology trial and consumers in Canada going to one of the mobile carriers and getting LTE service."

Which raises the question of why this announcement is being made now? Goldberg believes part of the answer lies in the press release that Rogers and Ericsson issued, which quotes Ericsson's president and CEO. To Goldberg, it means Ericsson was pushing the announcement to tout the work of its Ottawa wireless lab.

"The first part (of the testing) was very much lab-based," Mark Henderson, CEO of Ericsson Canada, said. "Now we're extending that... we're going to deploy a number of (antenna) sites across the urban, suburban and rural area around Ottawa and testing interoperability with Rogers' HSPA network, system performance and system reliability."

LTE promises downloads speeds under ideal conditions of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more, although users will likely see speeds much less than that. The version of HSPA+ that Canadian carriers are currently using hits 21 Mpbs under ideal circumstances. However, Telus will start 42 Mpbs in selected areas early next year. Canadian carriers have been cautious about when they'll move to LTE because HSPA can be torqued up relatively easily to near 100 Mpbs. Carriers here also are reluctant to jump to LTE before a good range of handsets are available. Right now most LTE devices are limited to USB dongles for laptops.

"Our customers increasingly want anywhere, anytime access to information, communications, entertainment and transactional experiences on their device of choice," said Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, said. "LTE is the next generation platform delivering superior mobile speed and functionality similar to what Canadians currently experience at home and at work. This technical trial is significant because it builds on our industry-leading networks and it sets the groundwork for our customers to do even more in the future."

Rogers' announcement comes the same day as Verizon Wireless said it will launch LTE service in 39 US markets, including New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco. That's 14 more cities than Verizon previously said it would launch with during 2010. Verizon said users of its LTE network will see download speeds of 5 to 12 megabits Mbps and upload speeds of 2-5 Mbps.

Last month MetroPCS Communications became first US carrier to implement LTE service, albeit with only one handset. Eriscson is a supplier to both Verizon and MetroPCS as well as to TeliaSonera, operator of the world's first commercial LTE network, in Norway and Sweden.