Bell winds its way west

Bell Canada’s national broadband fibre network is up and running, giving Canadian enterprises another option for coast-to-coast connectivity.

First announced last year as Natco, the new network’s service company is now going under the name of BCE Nexxia Inc.

Marc Bouchard, BCE Nexxia’s senior vice-president of business development and finance, said his goal is to go after large enterprise customers seeking fast pipes for broadband or IP applications.

Nexxia is offering both data and voice services over IP, ATM and frame relay through more than 100 points of presence in Canada and the United States.

Previously, Bell offered national voice and data services to Ontario and Quebec-based firms only, by hammering out interconnection agreements with its Stentor partners across the country.

Stentor is now winding down and many of its past responsibilities have been passed on to its individual telco members. But Stentor will continue to exist as an interconnection entity into the new millennium, Bouchard said.

While this might seem to be an awkward situation for Bell and Nexxia, Bouchard said there’s currently no conflict between what Nexxia and Stentor provide.

“We target different elements right now,” he explained. “Maybe in two years, I’d say it would be awkward. But right now Nexxia is not a voice platform. It’s a broadband carrier.”

However, that does not mean Nexxia will not use its broadband capability to carry voice.

“If AT&T Canada wanted to interconnect its switches in Calgary with its switches in Toronto, they could lease DS-3 capacity or OC-3 capacity from us and run voice traffic through that electronic channel,” Bouchard said.

In addition to lighting up its national network, Bell reached an agreement with Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. (MTS) that will see the companies form a firm to sell Nexxia services in Alberta and B.C.

The Bell/MTS venture, known as NewCo for now, will handle sales to smaller western-based clients, while Nexxia will handle direct sales to larger western-based customers. Bouchard said larger clients would include those companies with $1 million or more in telecommunications spending.

“At the very high end, you’d think of someone like Petro Canada,” he explained. “They’d be targeted as a Nexxia customer. If you looked at, say, a Husky Oil, who is significant in the U.S., but in Canada is a smaller player…that would be a NewCo customer.”

In effect, Bouchard said, NewCo will act as a local exchange carrier and will use Nexxia to carry its traffic from Alberta and B.C. to the United States or eastern Canada.

Jordan Worth, a telecommunications analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said Bell is one of five Canadian carriers with plans for a national broadband network. Sprint Canada and AT&T Canada already have their networks up and running, while Metronet Communications Corp. and BCT.Telus Communications are still working on theirs.

Worth said Bell’s move to begin marketing Nexxia services in BCT.Telus’s traditional territory should light a fire under the newly formed western carrier. BCT.Telus was created by Telus’s acquisition of BCTel late last year. Telus is Alberta’s Stentor member, while BCTel is B.C.’s Stentor member.

BCT.Telus has stated in the past that it will not begin selling national network services until later this year, because the company is more concerned about ensuring network quality than signing people up, Worth said.

“I think that’s got to go out the window, based on [Bell’s and MTS’s] stated intention of going after BCT.Telus’s clients,” Worth said. “And I’m sure [Bell and MTS will] try to undercut them.”

If BCT.Telus wants to follow through on its stated goal of becoming a significant national network, it must become more aggressive and attack the Ontario market where 80 per cent of large Canadian head offices reside, Worth said.

“They can’t go in and say, ‘We’ll get them when we’re ready.’ They have to go in there now.”

BCT.Telus offers national data network services to its existing Alberta- and B.C.-based clients by routing through GTE’s network in the United States and then back up into Canada.

At press time, BCT.Telus spokesperson Jeff Welke said the company is looking to finalize a national fibre deal in 30 to 60 days.