Leaders of the telecommunications industry are gathering in Toronto for an annual conference of leading equipment manufacturers, wired and wireless service providers and corporate buyers of telecom services.
Among the speakers at this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit, which starts Tuesday, will be the first public speech by new Industry Minister Christian Paradis (pictured).
Because he was only just confirmed as a speaker, conference organizers could only find 15 minutes for him to speak. Given that he has been in office less than two weeks, Paradis may only make plaudits for the industry.
Still, he might go further. Last year former Industry Minister Tony Clement had a half an hour to speak, and announced the government was about to release its options for liberalizing foreign telecom ownership rules. The Harper government was supposed to decide last fall which option it favoured, but then delayed its decision until it has formulated rules for what companies are eligible to bid in upcoming wireless spectrum auctions. It still hasn’t revealed its hand.
The industry has also been waiting for the government’s promised digital economy strategy. Clement was ready to announce it May 2, before that was declared election day.
This year’s conference theme is Building the Foundation for a Digital Economy.
As always, the summit will include an address by the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication (CRTC) Konrad von Finckenstein. He usually reviews the regulator’s work of the previous year and outlines some of the commission’s concerns.
Last year he warned that removing foreign ownership restrictions in the broadcast sector would result in the government having to heavily subsidize Canadian content producers. He also urged the government to consider merging the separate legislation covering telecom companies and broadcasters – the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act – to reflect the increasing consolidation in the industry. In the past year, for example, BCE Inc., which owns Bell Canada, bought the CTV network while Shaw Communications Inc. bought the Canwest Global television network.
By coincidence, the week of the conference will also see the release of a CRTC decision important to wireless startups like Wind Mobile and Mobilicity on the ability of their subscribers to easily roam on the networks of incumbent carriers.
Last October, Wind Mobile’s parent Globalive Wireless Management Corp. demanded the CRTC order Rogers Communications Inc. to give Wind subscribers the seamless roaming rights customers of Rogers’ new Chatr service have. Rogers has conferred on itself an “undue preference” under the Telecommunications Act, Globalive alleged. Mobilicity, which also has a roaming deal with Rogers, also complained about the refusal to grant seamless roaming.
Inter-carrier roaming is vital for the startups, who, with less than two years of operation have small networks. Without it their subscribers are limited to their coverage area, while incumbents’ subscribers can roam across the country.
To protect the young companies, Industry Canada requires incumbents to negotiate deals when requested with a new entrant allowing subscribers to roam on the broader networks.
The startups have indeed negotiated roaming rights – in Wind’s case, with Rogers. But Globalive complains that what Wind subscribers don’t get is immediate, seamless handoffs to another network when they leave Wind’s coverage when they’re in the middle of a call. Instead, Rogers’ network drops the calls. Wind subscribers have to re-dial to get service. The industy sometimes call this a hard hand-off.
Globalive told the commission that “not being to offer seamless handoffs … has contributed significantly to a decrease in new Wind activations and harm to the positioning of Wind’s brand on the key metric of network reliability.” Meanwhile Rogers is advertising that Chatr offered “fewer dropped calls than new wireless carriers.”
The result, Globalive says, is that Rogers has created the impression that the networks of startups is less reliable than is true.
For its part Rogers denies it subjects Wind to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage. “Seamless handoff is not the norm for roaming agreements in Canada, North America and other parts of the world,” it said to the commission. When Rogers, Fido or Chatr subscribers roam onto a third party’s network, it said, their connections are dropped as well.
Before Globalive spent over $400 million on wireless spectrum in 2008, Rogers added, it knew that Industry Canada refused to make seamless inter-carrier roaming obligatory.
Rogers also argued that when Chatr customers roam onto a third party’s networ
Finally, with four new Canadian carriers in business now (Wind, Mobilicity, Public Mobile and Videotron) and another two to come (Shaw Communications Inc. and the Eastlink cable division of Bragg Communications), providing inter-carrier seamless handoff would be “extremely complex to engineer and administer.”
Telus Corp. supported Rogers by arguing the CRTC doesn’t have the power to interpret the term of licences. Globalive, it said, should instead be appealing to the Industry Minister.