Enemies make poor partners

Co-operation isn’t always what it seems – especially when it comes to communication vendors looking to work together.

Those who follow the IT industry know it’s easy to be fooled by competing companies that appear to be working together with one another on standards and joint projects positioned as being beneficial to both themselves and their customers.

Of course anyone who has played one IT or communications service vendor against the other for a better deal knows the real truth. Competing vendors typically pull out all the stops to win business. Even when vendors agree on baseline standards and build products to meet those standards, invariably individual vendors add a host of proprietary functional features on top of the standard offering. If you want to implement a multi-vendor standards-based network, you might get it working, but it probably won’t be an easy thing to do and you certainly won’t be able to run all those proprietary add-ons, unless you make the investment in one vendor’s platform. Similarly, if two competitors come together on a joint project, they’ll say all the right things. But will they really “cooperate” in terms of ultimately delivering easy to install and use interchangeable systems?

With this in mind, enterprises with employees or offices in remote areas may have to swallow Bell’s and Rogers’ announcement to jointly build a $200 million national wireless broadband network with a large grain of salt.

In this initiative, it seems Bell and Rogers are partners of convenience. Neither was originally tied heavily to this project, known as Inukshuk, when it was first unveiled in 2003.

Rogers’ involvement came as a result of its acquisition of Microcell Telecommunications, one of the original Inukshuk partners. Conversely, Bell got involved through its investment in NR Communications, the other original partner.

The joint project could and should work, because it makes a lot of business sense. Inukshuk might be a strong out-of-region play for Bell and Rogers and help both to compete with the likes of Telus in Western Canada.

Even within Ontario, where Bell and Rogers are cutthroat competitors, both communication giants might use broadband wireless to serve customers not currently reached through both companies’ existing wireline networks.

But Bell and Rogers will be tasked to compete as well as cooperate. While both will construct the Inukshuk network, each also plans to offer separate services over the network and intend to compete with one another with those services.

There’s no love lost between Bell and Rogers. Through their mobile arms, both companies have for years been in a dogfight with one another in the wireless arena.

Lately, Rogers has ventured into Bell’s coveted voice space in the core Ontario market.

So it’s hard to believe Bell and Rogers can succeed in jointly building something that will serve each company and provide real value to customers. It seems inevitable that one or the other will ultimately take complete ownership of the project, or that the entire thing will fall apart as a result of clashing competing interests. History in the IT and communication industry has shown that vendor cooperation has its limits. The joint building of a national broadband wireless network may simply be too much to ask.

QuickLink: 053823

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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