Rogers sets sights on corporate market

Rogers Communications may be best known in the consumer market but company executives say they want a larger share of the business voice and data market.

“Our whole plan is to re-enter the Canadian business space,” said Terry Canning, senior vice-president of business network services at Rogers Business Solutions, at the Canadian Telecom Summit.

In previous financial reports, after seeing a revenue drop in business solutions division, Rogers said it “suspended most sales and marketing initiatives related to acquiring new medium and large business customers other than purely on-net opportunities within cable’s footprint.”

But during a keynote address at the conference Wednesday, Canning said Rogers wants to partner with international telecommunications carriers so it can provide network access for Canadian companies or multinationals with branch offices in Canada.

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What’s next for Rogers?

For example, he said, Exxon “is likely going to build a global network” to monitor refineries and gas stations worldwide, including those of its Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil. He cited Exxon as a hypothetical example when asked by Michael Sone, one of the conference organizers, to give specific examples.

Under that scenario, he said, “the decision of how the Canadian network gets provided will get made in Texas.” He added Rogers does not have “ambitions that we can bid on the Exxon global network” but they could get local access business as a subcontractor of the principal carrier, which he speculated could be AT&T Corp.

In an interview after his speech, Canning said the access would be provided by a combination of its cable network and the fibre plant Rogers inherited when it bought Call-Net Enterprises Inc. in 2005.“There’s no point in bringing coax into businesses when we can bring fibre at the same cost,” Canning said. “The real focus is to take the voice and data in through Ethernet.”

Canning added the company “would not rule out” using fixed wireless as an access technology. Rogers currently has wireless licenses through Inukshuk, a joint venture it shares with Bell Canada. But the company was not prepared to announce any new services, said Andy Striegler, vice-president for business and wholesale services, at Rogers Business Solutions.

“Anything that’s going to be announced on Inukshuk is going to come from Inukshuk” Striegler said in an interview after Canning’s keynote.

Roberta Fox, president and senior partner of Fox Group of Mount Albert, Ont., said Rogers should be targetting business customers but clients have questioned whether they are in for the long term. She did not attend Canning’s keynote and made her remarks in a separate interview.

“Two years ago they were quite serious about” the business market, she said of Rogers, adding some of her small to mid-sized business telecom clients are concerned because unlike consumers, they want to keep the same carrier for at least three to five years or more. “It’s very painful to change providers” if you’re a business, Fox said.

During his keynote Canning tried to dispel any notions that Rogers is not serious about the corporate market. “The rumours of our demise were exaggerated,” he quipped. We’re still in business”

But Rogers is not big enough to build a backbone network large enough to serve large companies on its own. “Lots of other people have networks and they’re much much larger than us,” he said. “We’re focussing on networking outsourcer partnerships”

Though he did not mention specific partnerships – other than the possibility of subcontracting with AT&T Corp. – he did suggest Rogers would be very selective.

“You can’t pick everybody,” Canning said. “It’s like having too many girlfriends. You run out of places to hide and it gets awkward.”

Canning also emphasized his company can provide carrier-grade voice quality. In the past, the “general perception” among telecom carriers was that cable companies operated “best effort networks,” Canning said. “That was true maybe 10 years ago,” he said. “We can meet and achieve the (service level agreements) that are expected around voice services.”

Rogers is not building networks outside Canada, but Canning said he attends industry conferences telling foreign carriers about his company. He showed a slide displaying Rogers’ businesses, which include a media division (which includes Macleans magazine, 53 radio stations and five television stations), a wireless carrier and the cable TV company founded in 1960 by Ted Rogers, who died last December at 75.“When you tell that story outside of Canada we have a fascinating story to tell” about Ted Rogers building a cable and wireless company, Canning said. “For most of the folks in the room you’ve heard this story to the point of nausea,” but other carriers are “fascinated by the quad play because most companies don’t have that,” he said.

Fox said for a company to buy access service from Rogers, “there has to be a serious financial incentive” or services they can’t get from someone else. She added Rogers should use Inukshuk but also its HSPA network as a last mile alternative. “We use Telus and Bell’s EVDO as our backup,” she said.

The Canadian Telecom Summit, an annual June event, was co-produced by Mark H. Goldberg Associates Inc. and NBI/Michael Sone Associates Inc. It wrapped up Wednesday.

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