Atria to launch phone service in 2010

Atria Networks LP, which provides private wide-area networking service in Ontario, plans to add telephone service to its offerings next year.



“We are actively looking into voice services, targeting the middle of next year for full launch, with controlled launches this year,” said Michael Stephens, vice-president of marketing for the Markham, Ont.-based vendor.


Atria operates a 4,500 km of fibre optic network in Ontario, mainly along hydro rights of way. It was founded in 2005 by the merger of the telecommunications divisions of two municipal electrical utilities – FibreTech Wired of Waterloo Region and FibreWired of Guelph.



The firm announced in May it would offer voice and last week, John Piercy, Atria’s chief executive officer, said Atria roll out service city by city starting the second quarter of 2010.


“Every one of our customers is a potential (voice) customer, because everyone who’s got data has got voice,” he said.


Atria has yet to announce price plans, but Iain Grant, managing director of Montreal-based SeaBoard Group, said the voice service will help Atria only if it offers it at a price that competes with Bell.


“It makes sense for them to have a more complete portfolio” of services, Grant said, because sales staff could tell prospective customers they can provide both voice and data service.


Piercy said Atria plans to offer to manage private branch exchanges and eventually offer services similar to Centrex.


“The world is moving away from the traditional PBX,” he said. “They don’t want to manage them. They want someone else managing them.”


Businesses are even more concerned about PBX support now the Nortel is operating under bankruptcy protection, Piercy said. Although Avaya plans to take over Nortel’s PBX line, Avaya has not announced specific product support plans.


In order to offer voice service, Atria must apply to the federal government to become a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC). Stephens said a “big part of the timeline” in setting up voice service is in the regulatory process, and not so much the technology.


Atria’s services include what it calls Transparent Local Area Network Service – or TLS – whereby companies with offices in more than one location can get connectivity of 100 Megabits per second, or a gigabit per second, among locations.


“For the Atrias of this world, that fibre is going to become increasingly important as business looks to more Ethernet-based connectivity,” Grant said.


Atria’s customers include the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, which Atria inherited in February, 2008 when it bought Hydro Ottawa Holding Inc.


Other Atria acquisitions include:


Halton Hills Fibre Optics Inc., which Atria bought in June for $4.75 million, and provides services in an near the town of Milton, located about 60 km west of Toronto;



-FibreWired Hamilton in January, 2008; and


– Simcoe Community Broadband Network of Owen Sound, about 200 km northwest of Toronto;


The company’s coverage now includes most of suburban Toronto, plus Peterborough, Ottawa and the Owen Sound area.


“Atria has some really interesting properties, and some of highest growth areas of Ontario,” Grant said.


Atria’s service areas does not include the City of Toronto, which sold Toronto Hydro Telecom to Cogeco Inc., which renamed the provider Cogeco Data Services.


Piercy said Atria sells a lot of bandwidth to, and buys a lot of bandwidth from, Cogeco Data Services, in order to serve customers with locations both in Toronto proper and on the outskirts.


“Both Cogeco Data Services and Atria have some fascinating synergies between them,” Grant said.


Piercy said the company is focusing more on building networks than on buying municipal hydro telecom providers.


“There are fewer and fewer of them for sale,” he said. “We knock on their door every year and let them know we’re interested.”


The firm recently completed a backbone network, which provides 40 wavelengths using dense wavelength division multiplexing, for a total of 1.6 terabits per second.


“We had literally half a dozen orders for one gigabit (per second) before we launched the service,” Stephens said.


Atria’s revenues are split almost evenly three ways between other carriers, public sector customers (including municipalities, school boards, universities and hospitals) and private firms.


A major selling point, Stephens said, is the fact that digital subscriber line (DSL) service is asymmetric, in that upload speeds are much slower than download speeds.


“The hardest part of networking is always the last mile,” Piercy said. “We were lucky to acquire the hyrdo utility companies because they were already building.”



Atria has more than 100 employees in Ontario, 40 of whom work in Ottawa. Another 20 each work in Hamilton and Waterloo Region, with 12 based at the company’s headquarters in Markham. It is owned by private equity firm Birch Equity Partners and does not publish its financial results.


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