Rogers, which is upgrading its existing network, expects 5G wireless technology to be ready for prime time by 2020

Published on: April 16, 2018 | Last Updated: April 16, 2018 5:18 PM EDT


Rogers Communications Inc. has partnered with Ericsson to test 5G wireless technology in Toronto and Ottawa, following its top competitors in announcing trials of the next-generation networks needed to power real-time applications like self-driving cars.

The Toronto-based company announced its partnership with the Swedish telecom on Monday at the Rogers Centre, where it demonstrated ultra-fast speeds and low latency with virtual reality and a robot. It installed hundreds of small cells in the stadium to test the new technology with data-hungry crowds.

“In the same way that 4G enabled the on-demand economy, 5G will deliver the real-time economy,” chief technology officer Jorge Fernandes said at the media event, pointing to opportunities such as smart cities, remote surgeries and virtual reality.

“Imagine for a second, a Blue Jays fan with a virtual reality handset on a 5G network being able to be away from the stadium yet to be present in the (field),” he said.

The move comes two years after BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. announced 5G trials. Telus partnered with Huawei to develop a research lab in Vancouver in 2015 and Bell said it completed Canada’s first successful 5G test with Nokia in 2016. Bell subsequently partnered with Huawei as well.

But Fernandes, who joined Rogers from Vodafone U.K. in February, said he doesn’t think Rogers has been slow to trial 5G, adding it has been working on the technology and its partnerships.

It chose to partner with Ericsson given its extensive experience with 5G — Ericsson has partnered with 40 major operators around the world to work on the technology and operates a laboratory in Ottawa — and the pair’s longstanding relationship, Fernandes said. Rogers will announce other technology partners in the coming months, he added.

The infrastructure needed for 5G networks isn’t as intrusive as a cell phone tower. It uses small cells that are smaller than laptops, and can be set up in buildings or on street furniture such as lampposts. Still, it requires relationships and co-operation with municipalities and businesses to find suitable locations.

Rogers is working to upgrade its existing network, which has fallen behind those of Bell and Telus when it comes to top speeds, according to independent reports by PCMag and Open Signal. Fernandes defended Rogers’ network, saying it is on par when it comes to average speeds, a metric that is more relevant to the average user.

While the 5G standards are not yet complete, Fernandes said the network investments mean Rogers will be ready when the standards are finished. The new infrastructure will simply require software upgrades to enable 5G when it is ready to go, he said.

“The current investments that we’re making in the modernization of our network is not just simply to catch up with competition,” he said.

“I’m not catching up to be ‘As good as’ … we will be leading in this business, make no mistake about that.”

Rogers expects 5G to be ready for prime time by 2020. It will test the technology in Toronto, Ottawa and select other cities this year.