MISSISSAUGA – Canada’s telecom industry spent three days last week at the 18th annual Canadian Telecom Summit exploring issues that will not only affect its future but will determine how Canadians are served in the years to come.
With keynotes from carriers, vendors, the CRTC, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, the event looked at everything from 5G technology and security to cellular customer experience, with some lively discussions along the way.
Eros Spadotto, executive vice-president of technology strategy and business transformation at Telus, compared telecom to Canada’s national rail system. The technology is not the point, he said. What really matters is the societal change it brings about. The rail system united a country and helped define the Canada of today.
He compared the railway of yore to fibre networks and 5G. “It’s the same thing,” he said. “Fibre networks have finally closed distance.” Young people in remote towns no longer have to move to a city to get a career, he noted. With broadband services, they can work from home as software developers, or in remote call centres, or even run their own businesses. “As a parent, that makes me happy,” Spadotto said. “Our kids can stay close by. The death of distance – that’s a social outcome.” And, he added, with the networks being built today, and soon 5G, people anywhere in Canada will have access to higher quality healthcare as technologies such as remote surgery are enabled.
“There is social good in what we’re building. It is not about technology,” he said. “In order to do that, we have to make sure we have the policies that are intended to deliver what we’re looking for. Often, policies are a little shortsighted; it’s important to see the long term.”
Policies were high on many presenters’ priorities, especially those around mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), providers who buy capacity at wholesale prices from network operators with infrastructure (known as facility based carriers – think Bell, Rogers, Telus, and Videotron, for example) and resell it to their customers, often undercutting the network owner’s prices. Facility-based carriers argue that requiring them to support MVNOs will discourage investment in infrastructure, citing the example of Israel, whose world-leading cellular networks suffered a major decline after the government brought MVNOs into the mix.
Canadians, however, are presenting carriers and regulators with a challenge. On one hand, they want speedy, low-latency, reliable networks. But they also want lower prices.
“Canadians have been clear about their wishes,” said CRTC chairman Ian Scott. “They want their service providers to treat them with respect. They want to know that the person that they’re dealing with is trustworthy. They want a marketplace for services that fosters choice, innovation, and better prices.” And while the industry has done well in many areas, Scott said, it has not performed as well in retail pricing. While data soon to be released for 2018 indicates that prices have declined, he still doesn’t feel that competition has progressed sufficiently.
“We want to see a broader range of affordable wireless options for consumers,” he said. “We want to ensure that the framework for wholesale mobile wireless services responds to the needs of Canadians. And we want to understand how increased competitive choice, including MVNOs, can be supported in the market.” He added that the CRTC’s preliminary view that the marketplace should include MVNOs may have to be enforced by regulation until MVNOs can establish themselves in the market.
He also discussed the CRTC’s role in 5G, explaining that it was looking at the possibility of regulation to facilitate the development of small cells and 5G network infrastructure.
The deadline for public comments on the CRTC’s wireless review was May 15, and the input is now being analyzed. The CRTC plans public opinion research on the key issues, and a public hearing in January 2020.
In his keynote, minister Bains said that he thinks 5G will be a massive job creator, adding $40 billion annually to the Canadian economy by 2026. Last year, a $66.7 million investment in a public-private partnership known as ENCQOR has resulted in innovation hubs offering a 5G testbed for small and medium businesses.
“Canada will be a global leader in deployment and rolling out 5G,” he said.He also acknowledged the digital divide in the country, noting that the CRTC has announced a call for applications for its Broadband Fund, which will assist in the provision of high speed Internet in rural and remote areas. In addition, the federal government is planning up to $6 billion in investments to bring broadband to everyone in Canada. But he also called on the industry, noting that competition is the key to lowering prices.
“We can’t have a digital economy and leave people behind,” he said. “I will be hot on your heels until Canadians have access to more cell phone and Internet connections at affordable prices.”