Rogers just launched 3.5G service in Canada. Does anyone know if the iPhone 3G chipset can support 7.2 megabits per second with a software update? "The current 3G iPhone does not support the faster network speeds being offered by Rogers. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press) Rogers Communications Inc. is rolling out a "3.5G" cellphone network that will be one of the fastest in the world and which the company says will double speeds for customers using data services such as web surfing and video on their mobile devices. The Toronto-based company on Thursday announced the upgrade to its high-speed packet access (HSPA) network, which will boost peak download speeds to 7.2 megabits per second from 3.6 megabits. The upgrade is immediately available in Canada's big markets and will cover 75 per cent of the population by the end of December, the company said. The upgrade will make the Rogers network one of the fastest in the world. According to the GSM Association, a global lobby group of cellphone providers, only 47 out of 278 carriers worldwide are offering download speeds of 7.2 megabits or greater. Only five are offering faster speeds, at 14.4 megabits. The Rogers network has already fared well in international speed comparisons. A comparison study conducted by Wired magazine this summer found that Rogers iPhone speeds were among the best in the world. Rogers did not disclose the cost of the speed boost, which included upgrades to software and backhaul infrastructure. Only two phones currently on the market, the HTC Touch Diamond and the LG Vu, will be able to take advantage of the faster speeds, however. John Boynton, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer for Rogers, said there are plenty of capable devices coming over the next year. "The roadmap looks good. There's critical mass now" among carriers, who are demanding faster phones from manufacturers, he said. A pair of existing wireless devices that hook up to computers — the Novatel MC950D Rocket Stick and the X950D Express card — will also be able to take advantage of the new speeds. HSPA is the term for third-generation, or 3G, cellphone networks that use the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) technology. While definitions differ, a future technology known as Long Term Evolution is generally referred to as fourth-generation or 4G, so improved steps toward it — such as the move by Rogers — are sometimes called 3.5G. Improving network speeds and devices that make internet use easier, such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, are causing mobile internet usage to "take off like you wouldn't believe," Boynton said. The company sold more than 250,000 3G iPhones in its first quarter of availability, making it the fastest-selling device Rogers has had yet. Demand for speed will build Consumers are going to start looking for devices that are able to take advantage of the faster speeds, particularly with the iPhone and Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices, all of which can only currently handle existing 3G speeds. "[Apple and RIM are] well aware of our need. We didn't roll out the 2G [iPhone] since Ted [Rogers] was always very adamant that he wanted the 3G version. RIM is working as hard as it can on all the nuances to get more HSPA devices out specifically," Boynton said. "They know there's a lot of carriers all asking the same question, so it's a matter of when not if." Industry analysts also believe the spread of mobile internet usage may start affecting how consumers view their home internet subscriptions, since wireless speeds are now coming close to equalling phone line or cable connections. "Some people may find that home access to be unnecessary," said Lawrence Surtees, senior telecommunications analyst for research firm IDC Canada. Rogers said the speed upgrade would give it an advantage over its two main rivals, Bell Canada Inc. and Telus Corp., who currently use a different network technology, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). The two companies announced in October that they plan to incorporate the HSPA technology used by Rogers and the majority of cellphone providers worldwide into their CDMA networks by 2010. In an earlier Rogers news release on Thursday announcing the network upgrade, Boynton took a swipe at competitors. "As we’ve seen with recent announcements, wireless service providers across Canada and internationally are trying to catch up by making the switch to the HSPA standard which Rogers embraced more than three years ago because of the unique benefits it provides our customers," he said. The Rogers announcement came on the same day that the privatization of Bell Canada Inc. was scrapped and questions began to swirl about the phone company's future direction. Boynton said the speed announcement was coincidental with Bell's news. Rogers had held off on announcing its upgrade until it met its internal targets, which happened to fall on the same day as the Bell deal falling through. "We wanted to get to the 75 per cent number and we just finished it," he said. "But now that I think about it, it gives me a good chuckle.""