It’s time carriers did better, says new Rogers chief

The telecom industry has invested billions in new wireless networks but it isn’t making it easy for cellphone users, says Rogers  Communications’ new chief executive.

“I don’t think we’re delivering on the promise of technology to give back enough time” to subscribers, Guy Laurence said at the opening of the annual Canadian Telecom Summit on Monday in Toronto. While telcos have done a good job bringing fast reliable networks to Canadians, and the technology investment per subscriber is near the top globally, he said the telecommunications sector doesn’t do as well when it comes to simply saving time for customers. A lot of that comes down to complexity.

“As an industry we have thousands of different price plans, each with different rates, eligibility criteria, rules, services and so on,” Laurence said. “The intention was good – to provide customers with solutions uniquely tailored to them. However we’ve gone too far and increased complexity. Now the customer needs to do lots of research and ask lots questions just to get a mobile phone.”

While well-staffed call centres are available to handle customer problems, more and more people prefer to solve their problems online. And they get frustrated by the fact that telcos still speak in technological jargon too much of the time, Laurence said.

More than 50 per cent of Canada’s population will be true ‘digital natives’ in the next six years, Laurence said, and enabling them to increase their productivity by saving time has a huge upside to the national economy. “True innovation isn’t innovation for the sake of innovation. It’s about helping consumers and businesses get what they want more quickly, more easily – giving people more time so they can spend it as they choose.”

The conference, put on every year by telecom analyst Mark Goldberg and telecom industry research firm NBI/Michael Sone Associates, draws telcos, Internet service providers, network equipment makers, Industry Canada officials and regulators from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for two and a half days of talks on industry problems and solutions.

Innovation and productivity were among the themes from keynote speakers, with panels on cyber security, market competition and network technology transformations.

One of the most closely watched appearances had to be that of  Laurence, who took over Rogers (Nasdaq: RCI)  last December. The industry wants to know where he’ll take the company, and his position on the company’s recent disclosure of the kinds of information it routinely reveals upon request to law enforcement agencies.

However, those who hoped that Laurence would address last week’s Supreme Court’s decision that Internet providers can’t turn over subscriber information without a search warrant, they were disappointed. Laurence kept his talk high-level, stressing his belief – echoing that of Steve Jobs – that time is the consumer’s most precious resource and that companies like his haven’t done enough to free up more of it for their customers.

Ericsson Canada president Mark Henderson discussed the results of the sixth Ericsson Mobility report, offering a slew of statistics to illustrate the predicted global spread of mobility up to 2019. There are 6.8 billion mobile subscribers globally as of the first quarter of this year, with 120 million added during the quarter. Five countries topped the list of new additions: India, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh top producers. Harrison noted that India adds more subscribers in 90 days than Canada has added in the last 25 years.

The momentum of smart phone uptake is showing no signs of slowing down, of course. But LTE is poised for some amazing growth through the forecast period. Some 200 million new LTE subscribers were added in 2013, but by 2019 there will be 2.6 billion according to Ericsson’s analysis. “That’s the quickest growth of a technology in this industry we’ve seen so far,” Henderson said.

Henderson highlighted Ericsson Canada’s new research and development centre opened last year in Ottawa, and also the new ICT data centre under construction in Vaudreuil, Quebec, which is due to open in the first quarter of next year.

Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada, also talked about the productivity challenge. “Productivity really matters for our standard of living,” he said. “If you can impact a nation’s productivity by one per cent every year we double our standard of living every 72 years. Take that to three per cent a year and we double it in 24 years. At five per cent it takes 14 years. But with emerging Asian economies growing at about seven per cent a year, the one per cent for Canada just isn’t good enough.”

Kawale also emphasized the underrated importance of collaborative work in fostering innovations. In the course of debunking the “great man” theory of innovation, where the solitary genius toils in obscurity for years before hitting on an innovation that transforms the world, Kawale took the example of the first cafes that were opened in Europe in the 17th century. These quickly became public ideas exchanges not unlike today’s innovation hubs and incubators – the idea for the London Stock Exchange was first broached in a coffee house.

In the same vein, Kawale cited a survey of CEOs who said that they view their own employees as one of their greatest potential sources of new thinking. In that context the rapid adoption of mobile technology as a platform, plus the Internet of Things (IoT) Cisco plays such a huge role in fostering, has huge potential to bring people and ideas together – but the workplace has so far fallen short in realizing its full innovative potential.

Bernard Lord, the president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), focused mainly on the advocacy, networking and charitable work the association has done in the past several years and that it plans to do in the near future. He also shared some statistics illustrating Canada’s position vis-a-vis the world in bringing wireless access to its population.

Last year was a busy one for wireless market in Canada, Lord said. Smart phone penetration went from under 30 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent at the beginning of 2014. And this year has already seen the largest spectrum auction in Canadian history.

“In five years we’ve seen a virtual revolution in the way wireless services are delivered and consumed across Canada. Five years ago Canada had 21 million subscribers. Today there are 28 million. Five years ago there was no LTE at all; now Canada’s LTE networks rank among the best on the planet.”

Other milestones Lord highlighted:

  • in 2008 the wireless sector contributed just over $16 billion to Canadian GDP; at the end of 2014 it will have contributed over $23 billion;
  • Canada’s capital expenditure per wireless subscriber came in third among all OECD countries, behind Japan and Korea; at $98 per subscriber, Canada almost doubled the OECD average;
  • 99 per cent of the Canadian population enjoys 4G wireless access;
  • Canada’s mobile data usage will grow by 900 per cent out to 2018.

“The wireless sector will need to become relentlessly service oriented and customer focused,” Lord said. “Customers don’t just want cheaper; they want better, faster – and as we can see they’ll want more and more of it.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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