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A Rogers store in downtown Toronto is seen in a June 12, 2019, file photo.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Rogers is expanding its fifth-generation wireless service to more than 50 new markets in Ontario, Quebec and Western Canada amid the intensifying race to deploy 5G technology.

After an initial launch in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal in January, Rogers’s early 5G service is now available in dozens of smaller cities including Hamilton, Victoria and Regina.

The fifth generation of wireless technology promises faster speeds, less lag time and a massive increase in the number of devices that can be connected. However, the technology will be rolled out gradually and its full benefits won’t be realized until later stages, particularly as additional spectrum – the radio waves used to send wireless signals – becomes available.

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“At these early stages I think it’s more about the marketing benefit of being able to get people onto unlimited [data plans] and hopefully bring in new customers,” Edward Jones analyst Dave Heger said.

For now, customers with 5G-capable smartphones will be able to connect to the network “very often” and experience faster speeds compared with the company’s 4G service said Kye Prigg, senior vice-president of access networks and operations at Rogers.

However, those gains will likely be “very minimal” said Hanish Bhatia, a senior analyst at Counterpoint Research. Mr. Bhatia estimates that users will see an increase of roughly 30 megabits per second (Mbps).

The true potential of the technology won’t emerge until Canadian carriers get access to mid-band and ultrahigh-frequency millimetre-wave spectrum, Mr. Bhatia said. “So far what the Canadian carriers are doing is utilizing their existing spectrum assets and … making their networks 5G ready,” he said.

An auction of 3,500-megahertz spectrum was expected late this year but has been postponed by six months, to June, 2021, because of the pandemic. That band is the “sweet spot” for 5G, Mr. Bhatia said.

Ottawa is also in the midst of a consultation, announced last week, on repurposing 3,800-megahertz spectrum for 5G. The band, which is also key for the deployment of next-generation wireless services, is currently being used for wireless broadband and fixed satellite service.

BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada and Telus Corp. launched their initial 5G networks in June, as the race to market the new technology heated up. Both companies targeted the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton for their initial launches. (The two carriers share the radio access portion of their networks, with each one responsible for roughly half the country.)

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Edward Jones analyst Dave Heger said Rogers has been able to move faster than its rivals because of its long-standing partnership with Swedish supplier Ericsson Inc.

“That’s helped Rogers plow forward and not have to worry about the vendor question,” Mr. Heger said.

Bell and Telus, meanwhile, had initially planned to use gear from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in their 5G networks but have since adjusted their vendor strategies.

It’s uncertain what role the Chinese supplier will be permitted to play in Canada’s deployment of the technology. The federal government is in the midst of a lengthy cybersecurity review that is expected to determine whether the Shenzhen telecommunications equipment giant should be excluded from 5G. The United States has been putting pressure on its allies to enact such bans because of concerns that Huawei could be compelled to help Beijing spy on, or sabotage, Western networks.

Bell and Telus have both used gear from Huawei extensively in their 4G networks, and are delivering their initial 5G service by adding a channel on top of those existing networks. However, the companies recently inked deals with other suppliers – including Ericsson Inc., Finland-based Nokia Corp. and South Korean conglomerate Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. – and have vowed not to use Huawei equipment in their “stand-alone” 5G networks unless Ottawa allows it.

Rogers is using a mix of different spectrum bands to deliver its 5G service. Its initial launch was with 2,500 MHz spectrum, but the company is now adding the 600 MHz band – which can carry wireless data across longer distances and through dense urban areas – and AWS spectrum into the mix. Using multiple bands provides better coverage and capacity, Mr. Prigg said.

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