How competitive is Canada in broadband?

Canadian carriers and providers shouldn’t be defensive about the broadband service they offer, according to two of the main speakers at a Toronto communications conference.

While critics note that Canadian broadband adoption has slipped behind Luxemburg on a per capita basis, Canada leads all G7 industrial nations in high speed adoption, Mark Goldberg, a consultant and co-founder of the annual Canadian Telecom Summit, said in his opening remarks Monday to the three-day conference.

Canadian carriers added as many broadband connections in half a year as the entire population of Luxemburg – which is about 470,000 – Goldberg said as he opened the conference.

Critics not only complain that our broadband speeds are slow relative to other nations, but that our wireless broadband technology is relatively slow and overpriced compared to other nations.

However, Rogers Communications president and CEO Nadir Mohamed said that his company offers wireless download speeds of 7.2Mbps to three-quarters of the country, a speed he said in his keynote is “best in class.”

“We should feel good that in Canada we have done that,” he said.

On the other hand, he didn’t hold out hope that upgrading Rogers’ wireless data networks to LTE, a so-called fourth generation technology, is coming soon.

In the U.S., AT&T has promised to begin work on an LTE-based network, but Mohamed thinks the technology isn’t ready for prime time yet. Rogers’ network today uses HPSA, which he said the industry is still trying to get the most out of.

However, at a panel later in the day Ken Campbell, CEO of Globalive Wireless Corp., one of the new wireless carriers that hopes to start service by the end of the year, complained this country is falling behind the world in wireless technology.

“We’re moving in the wrong direction” because of the lack of competition, he said. “Canada unfortunately is lagging behind in mobile broadband.” Prices recently have been falling, he acknowledged. But, he added, they are still high.

However, with new entrants coming into the market, there will be “real change” in a few years.

Globalive, DAVE Wireless, Videotron and others paid hundreds of millions of dollars last spring in the AWS auction to bring more wireless competition here. They were encouraged by Industry Canada, which set aside spectrum for new entrants alone to bid on.

Among the topics being discussed at the three day event are Canada’s broadband progress compared to the world, whether government funding is needed or desired, Net neutrality and the new wireless carriers that are about to enter the market.

In his keynote, Mohamed painted a picture of a Canada about to explode with wireless users and applications for individuals and businesses. In fact, he said, predictions that there will be 3 million Canadian wireless users by 2014 will be blown away.

Wireless will no longer be about voice, but about taking advantage of wireless access to the Internet. For example, he cited Monday’s announcement by EnStream of a mobile platform called Zoompass that allows cellphone users to transfer money to each other. EnStream is a joint venture between Rogers, Bell Canada and Telus Corp. “It’s the beginning of something that’s going to revolutionlize the industry,” Mohamed said.

Zoompass is a PIN-protected application that can be downloaded to mobile devices, and, by linking to a bank account or credit card, can used to transfer money to the holder of another Zoompass-enabled device. Through an optional prepaid MasterCard service, payments can also be made in stores using MasterCard’s PayPass wireless terminals.

On wireless pricing, he said Rogers is “ahead of the curve” today. He admitted that on wireless data pricing, Rogers had to learn some lessons. After the iPhone was introduced there were howls from subscribers about exorbitant data charges. Now Rogers offers subscribers choice by offering several data plans, he said.

He also held out some hope Rogers will do something about high roaming charges, saying “there’s a disconnect.”

“Roaming is something we will be addressing,” he said, but didn’t detail when.