Bell Canada Picks LTE For 4G Despite Investments In WiMax And Clearwire

Bell Canada said today that it will use LTE to build out its 4G network, an unexpected move for a company which has many close ties to the competing WiMax standard. For instance, the operator currently offers a WiMax-like network in 178 cities in Canada, and in March 2005, it partnered with Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) and invested $100 million into the U.S. WiMax operator. As part of the funding, Clearwire used a VoIP technology that Bell Canada developed and its CEO Michael Sabia joined the board. Sabia is no longer Bell Canada’s CEO. A Clearwire spokesperson confirmed that although Bell Canada continues to be a shareholder, the company no longer uses Bell Canada’s VoIP technology, and Sabia will leave the board once Clearwire finalizes its merger with Sprint (NYSE: S). Release.

A Bell Canada spokeswoman did not respond to multiple inquiries, so it is unclear if Bell Canada will continue to operate its WiMax network along side LTE. Also, much of the WiMax network in Canada is being built through a joint venture with Rogers Communications called Inukshuk Wireless, so it’s possible it could continue on in some other form. As part of Bell Canada’s announcement today, it also said it is investing in its 3G network, by overlaying HSPA (the GSM standard) on top of EV-DO (CDMA), so that users can travel and roam more easily internationally. That also seemed to be a factor when considering LTE. In a release, Stephen Howe, SVP and CTO of Bell Mobility, said: “Bell’s transition to the global 4G LTE standard with a combined EVDO and HSPA network path aligns us with more than 30 major carriers worldwide planning a similar move to LTE.” The company said LTE won’t be widely available until “post-2010.”

Bell Canada’s decision to use LTE can be interpreted as a set-back for Clearwire and Sprint, which have been working hard to close their merger and create more enthusiasm for WiMax. Plus, there would have been some obvious roaming synergies to be had with Bell Canada if the two used the same standard. In response to these issues, Clearwire spokeswoman Susan Johnston said that WiMax is the obvious technology to use today because it’s commercially available, but that it doesn’t preclude Clearwire from considering other technologies in the future. Johnston: “Mobile WiMax is a next generation technology that