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A Rogers Plus store sign is seen in Toronto.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Rogers Communications Inc. has become the first telecom operator in Canada to turn on a commercial long-term evolution (LTE) wireless network, giving it a near-term marketing advantage as competition increases dramatically in the sector.

Fourth-generation (4G) LTE networks can provide significantly higher speeds than the third-generation networks currently in use in Canada. The new 4G networks are also better suited to applications that use a lot of wireless data, such as mobile video and music streaming. Only a handful of global operators, such as New York-based Verizon Communications Inc., have upgraded to the technology so far, but many more are expected to launch such service in the next year.

Both Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. have announced plans to launch LTE services, but Rogers was first out of the gate, turning on its network in the Ottawa region on Thursday. More rollouts are planned for Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in the fall.

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The move means Rogers will be able to advertise that its speeds are four to five times faster than other wireless networks in Canada, said Rob Bruce, president of Rogers' communications division. "We think it positions us very, very well," he said in an interview.

Initially, the Rogers network will not be able to support any smart phones on the LTE technology, but it will provide LTE service for ultra-fast wireless internet connections on the company's "Rocket" sticks for laptop computers. The company said LTE handsets, from HTC Corp. and Samsung Electronics, should be available before Christmas.

Some in Canada, such as Shaw Communications Inc., have discussed the lack of an "ecosystem" of handsets and devices for the LTE platform, but Mr. Bruce dismissed such concerns, noting that Research In Motion Ltd. is working on a 4G version of its PlayBook tablet, as are other companies preparing for the new wireless standard.

Rogers, Canada's largest wireless company, has been battling new competitors, such as Wind Mobile, as well as Bell and Telus, which have gained significant momentum of the past year since teaming up to launch a new wireless network together.

Rogers (RCI.B)

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