TORONTO - Consumers looking to upgrade their cellphone have a new acronym to learn: HSPA.
All three of Canada's big wireless providers are buzzing about the new technology - high speed packet access - which promises to make smartphones even more fun and powerful with blazing download speeds far faster than most home Internet connections.
Desktop and laptop computers can also connect to the HSPA networks to take advantage of the high speeds, although it's typically a more expensive option, especially for users who do a lot of downloading or use a lot of bandwidth.
HSPA networks currently can reach as high as 21 megabits per second, which will usher in a new age of mobile video streaming, downloading and other high-tech features that were once considered impossible, the companies tout.
"I've been in this business a long time and I almost think, this is just too good to be true," said Bell Mobility (TSX:BCE) president Wade Oosterman on Wednesday, as the company launched its HSPA network.
"But it actually isn't, it's remarkable, it's the very best network you can get anywhere in the world."
Bell, which worked in co-operation with Telus (TSX:T) to launch its network, rushed out its launch to have the technology in place in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Bell users with HSPA-compatible phones will be able to watch seven channels of live Olympic coverage when logged on to the network.
Bell is also promoting video-calling as a key feature to take advantage of the high-speed connection, including an exclusive Facebook application that allows video chat between Internet users and Bell cellphone users.
The new network has also allowed Bell and Telus to start offering the Apple iPhone and a line of other new smartphones, which will only grow more and more sophisticated with the new speeds now being offered to users, said Joe Natale, Telus' executive vice-president and president of consumer solutions.
"It will be an absolutely brand new experience for the consumer and their ability to get the same responsiveness and interaction that they've only been used to getting at home will now be available to them on the road on the go," he said.
"It goes beyond just voice communications and texting and email, now it enters the realm of video entertainment, it enters the realm of social networking in a much more satisfying experience."
The HSPA technology isn't entirely new, as Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) has already had it in place for some time and it has been rolled out elsewhere around the world.
For its part, Rogers is boasting that it's offering the largest selection of HSPA-capable phones on its "proven network."
Consumers will quickly come to appreciate how their mobile experience changes with the dramatic upgrade in download speeds and will demand nothing less, said Bob Berner, Rogers' executive vice-president and chief technology officer.
"We foresee there will be a massive increase in the demand, in perpetuity, of the ability to stay connected, by ultimately providing all the same functionality in a home broadband or in an office broadband except doing it where ever you are," he said.
"It'll change how people work, it'll change how they live - and it already has."
Telus launches its HSPA network on Thursday and claims its network will offer Internet access for the first time to many rural residents who had previously gone without, including customers in as many as 2,100 British Columbia and Alberta communities.
The fact that the Bell and Telus networks offer service to 93 per cent of the population is great news for the estimated 20 to 25 per cent of Canadians with little to no access to the Internet in rural areas, said Lawrence Surtees, an analyst with IDC Canada.
"Wireless beautifully fills all (the unserviced areas) in," he said.
"Stop and think about trying to live today or do business ... do things that we take for granted on the Internet - with the speed of dialup you almost want to bite your arms off."
Given the speeds now available wirelessly, and the fact they're expected to at least double in a few years when networks are upgraded again to the next-generation 4G standard, it may be just a matter of time before consumers start dropping their wired Internet connection entirely in favour of going purely wireless, Surtees said.
"We've started to notice Canadians who have cut the phone cord and who only communicate by voice on their wireless; their home phone and maybe even office phone are a thing of the past," he said.
"Now that you can have high speed at 21 megabits via wireless and in about two or three years maybe 54 megabits, why would you have a wired Internet connection?"