I’m in Canada this week setting up our big Canadian drive test, Fastest Mobile Networks Canada 2021. Since 2013, we’ve been doing annual surveys of the Canadian mobile networks, comparing them to one another and to what we found in the US.
Our drivers go on the road next week in Ontario and Manitoba, and over the next month they’ll be in every province but Newfoundland. (Sorry, St. John’s; we’ll come back in ’22.) We bring Samsung Galaxy S21+ phones for the three major carriers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) as well as phones for three competing regional carriers (Freedom, Sasktel, and Videotron).
All three Canadian national carriers use what I’d call a “4G with a cherry on top” approach to 5G. None of them use much dedicated 5G spectrum yet, although a recent auction of 3500MHz airwaves—similar to the US C-band—will change that situation next year. The Canadians have spent years building up 4G capacity far beyond the US carriers, though, so their 4G with a cherry on top may still outpace some “nationwide” 5G in the US.
On Bell’s 5G network in Toronto this week, I ran a speed test at one location that showed 1.044Gbps down, with 75MHz of 4G spectrum and 10MHz of band n66 5G spectrum. That’s faster than the peak speeds T-Mobile was able to achieve in New York—with more available spectrum—in our FMN 2021 tests.
The Canadians also gave me some good 5G consumer use cases. The key, a Bell representative told me, isn’t speed but latency. That’s what permits startup Tiny Mile to sensitively control remote delivery robots as they zip along Toronto streets delivering sandwiches, for instance, or lets the 40 cameras installed around a hockey arena provide a 360-degree view without vertigo or lag. These things can be managed with best-case 4G, but even imperfect 5G will have lower latency, so your connection doesn’t have to be perfect for your application to work.
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In my early tests in Toronto this week, I found 9–10ms latency to local servers on Rogers’ network, with 50MHz of 4G airwaves and 20MHz of band n41 5G. Once again, that’s better than I saw on any network at home in New York.
There’s another factor at play this year, too. This may be the last year we test Freedom Mobile, as the carrier is looking to get absorbed into either Rogers or Videotron, and it may be the last year Videotron is only tested in Quebec, as that company has said it aims to expand. Our tests may show just how much Freedom can bring to a potential partner.
Our full Canadian results will come out at the end of October. For now, if you want to know more about our testing or make suggestions, hit me up in the comments.
What Else Happened This Week?
- Netgear came out with the M5, a rare unlocked 5G hotspot and the first to support AT&T C-band. I really wish T-Mobile would allow its unlimited Home Internet plan on something like this and not the mediocre Nokia routers it uses.
- Wild rumors ping-ponged around that the iPhone 13 would use satellite connections. The best take came from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who pointed out that this would be for emergency beacons only, and might be years away. I still think the genesis of the rumor came from the fact that the iPhone 13 may have the n53 5G band, which is owned by satellite company Globalstar but is purely ground-based spectrum.
- Qualcomm introduced a new high-quality music codec as part of its Snapdragon Sound portfolio. The real takeaway here is that Qualcomm is finally, finally feeling threatened by Mediatek and really, really trying to build some consumer consciousness.
- Every time there’s a network upgrade, there’s an angry legacy user. We’ve seen this with Dish raging at T-Mobile about not wanting to upgrade Boost phones to 4G. Now the alarm industry is, uh, alarmed, and it doesn’t want AT&T to shut off its 3G network. But AT&T needs that channel for 5G next year.