MONTREAL - Traffic tie-ups aren't a big problem on this highway and speed isn't an issue.
Canada's smartphone customers, including Apple iPhone users, are having a pretty good ride on new advanced, wireless networks as they surf the Internet and download software apps.
That's because there isn't always a lot of network traffic to compete with when they get up and running.
"It's like building a 10-lane highway, even though there's only enough traffic out there currently to justify having a three-lane highway," said technology analyst Carmi Levy.
"You would always rather be ahead of the game than behind," he said.
Bell and Telus launched next-generation wireless networks last fall, aimed at smartphones and mobile laptop use, and have been offering the iPhone like competitor Rogers.
In industry jargon, it's called an HSPA-plus network, part of a common global standard, and it stands for High Speed Packet Access.
That would ideally mean experiencing close to the speed of home Internet service on your mobile phone, speed needed for data-intensive activities rather than just for talking.
But the mobile phones available up to this point haven't yet caught up to the network's full capacity.
"The network comes first and then the devices follow," said Levy, an independent analyst in London, Ont.
Not only does the wireless carrier have to invest in a lineup of devices for such a network, it also has to migrate customers onto the network who already have existing cellphone contracts waiting to expire.
It will take "fully three years" for Bell and Telus to gradually move their subscribers to the new network from existing ones, Levy said. The two telecoms also operate older networks with different technology that's considered less relevant globally.
Telus executive David Neale said its advanced network isn't busy yet.
"In relative terms, the network is still what you would consider pretty much empty," said Neale, chief futurist and senior vice-president of strategic content services.
"(But) people are being added all of the time."
PC Magazine analyst Sascha Segan said, for the first time, Canadian carriers are all competing with the same network technology.
"Canadian carriers are out of the mobile phone ghetto," said Segan, managing editor of mobile at PCMag Digital Network in New York.
"I wouldn't say you are out front," Segan said. "But you are in the pack of technologically competitive countries."
Segan noted that Canadian carriers will have to compete on monthly service plans and customer service.
"All the Canadian carriers now have access to the hundreds of phones that are being developed for the global standard. That means better phones for everybody."
Telus says it has 14 devices, including two USB sticks for mobile laptop use, for its HSPA-plus network.
Neale wouldn't say how many customers are on the new network but said "just shy of six million customers" are on Telus's older wireless network. Telus has 6.5 million wireless subscribers.
Bell Mobility wouldn't say how much traffic is on its new network.
"But it's a brand new network, so we're just getting started," said spokesman Mark Langton.
Langton said the new network contributed to the quarterly record 523,000 new activations in its recent fourth quarter. Bell says it has 16 devices for the new network.
Rogers operates three networks, two of them advanced including an HSPA-plus network.
"While information pertaining to the network traffic split is confidential, for data, most traffic is carried on HSPA or higher," said spokeswoman Ashleigh Blackmore.
Wind Mobile, operating since December, also has almost no traffic on its network, said CEO Ken Cambell. Wind is planning to upgrade its advanced network to HSPA-plus.
"Your speed and your function are a product of how many people are on the network," said Campbell.
New cellphone player Mobilicity and Quebec-based Videotron are also planning to build advanced networks for their cellphone businesses.
Levy said there are consumers who will never be interested in upgrading from a basic cellphone.
"I think there will always be a certain segment that will hold onto yesterday's technology until it's pried out of their cold, dead hands."