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BCE’s launch follows that of its rival, Rogers, which began rolling out its 5G service in January.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada has launched initial 5G service in five major cities amid a global race to deploy next-generation wireless technology.

The first stage in the company’s roll-out of fifth-generation wireless service – which promises faster speeds, less lag time and a substantial increase in the number of devices that can be connected – will allow customers with 5G-capable phones in the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton to access the service.

However, Thursday’s announcement represents just the first of many phases as the telecommunications industry works to deploy the new technology, said Claire Gillies, president of Bell Mobility.

“It’s very early in the deployment of 5G," Ms. Gillies said.

While the initial phase will offer some advantages for customers, the full benefits of 5G won’t be realized until later stages, particularly as additional spectrum – the radio waves used to transmit wireless signals – becomes available, Ms. Gillies said. “With every stage of 5G we launch, Canadians will see significant improvements," Ms. Gillies said.

Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst for technology publication PCMag, said Canadian carriers appear to be in a hurry to offer the new service, even though the government is not providing them some of the necessary spectrum yet.

“They don’t want to be seen as technological laggards,” Mr. Segan said.

Last week, Ottawa postponed its planned auction of 3,500-megahertz spectrum radio waves that will be critical for delivering 5G service, from Dec. 15 to June 15, 2021. The federal government said the postponement would allow telecom companies to focus on keeping Canadians connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BCE’s launch follows that of its rival, Rogers Communications Inc., which began rolling out its 5G service in downtown Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal in January. Both companies are also building 5G networks on university campuses that they say will allow them to conduct research into various applications of the new technology, such as smart cities and autonomous vehicles.

Bell announced last week that Swedish supplier Ericsson will provide equipment for the radio access portion of its 5G network, which includes antennas and radios on cell towers. The company said it won’t be using gear from China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. for its next-generation wireless network unless Ottawa permits it.

The federal government is in the midst of a lengthy cybersecurity review that is expected to determine whether the Shenzhen-based company will be barred from supplying equipment for Canada’s 5G networks.

The United States has been putting pressure on its allies to enact such bans over concerns that Huawei presents a security threat because it could be compelled to help Beijing spy on, or sabotage, Western networks.

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