Yesterday, Rogers announced that it will be providing 5G connectivity services to Toronto’s entire subway system, including access to 911 for all riders.
But it remains unclear whether it is only Rogers customers or all Torontonians who will benefit from connectivity under the new deal.
This announcement comes after Rogers entered into an agreement to acquire BAI Communications’ Canadian operations (BAI Canada), which held the exclusive rights to build the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) wireless network.
“Our goal from the start has always been to connect the unconnected by delivering services to as many riders as possible,” said BAI in a release. “Following active negotiations over the past year, we have decided that the best outcome for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and its riders is a sale of our assets to Rogers.”
In 2012, the city granted a C$25 million contract to BAI to provide the wireless infrastructure on Toronto’s entire subway system for 20 years, and sign up enough service providers to cover 60 per cent of the TTC within a year or transfer the contract to another party, a requirement which was later dropped.
In 2015, only Freedom Mobile signed and now covers only about six per cent of the system. Bell, Rogers and Telus backed off, as they believed that the infrastructure would not be able to handle the number of users or their data requirements.
But a TTC spokesperson said that BAI, in fact, exceeded its contractual obligations by building infrastructure for Wi-Fi in stations and for cellular network in the ‘downtown U’ section of Line 1 from St. George station to Bloor-Yonge station via Union, as well as service from Sheppard West to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, the Star reported.
Nonetheless, according to Rogers’ press release, this only accounts for 25 per cent of the tunnels where TTC users could make 911 calls.
This is critical, as Toronto’s transit system has been blighted with serious safety concerns, from sexual assaults to homicides, in the past year.
The safety of riders has been a pressing concern for the City of Toronto as well.
Last month, a motion presented by Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie was passed, urging all cell phone providers to ensure service is available across the subway system.
TTC chief executive officer Rick Leary said that the council is trying to ‘shame’ the big players to sign on, adding that “because of the social issue that’s happening, the security issue, there seems to be more of an interest.”
In recent years, BAI also tried to garner public support to sway the telco giants, launching an online campaign, iwantaccess.ca, that invited TTC riders to sign a petition requesting the so-called Big Three use its network.
“We know safety is top of mind for Torontonians. Residents and visitors expect wireless connectivity when they’re travelling on the TTC’s subway system,” said Ron McKenzie, Rogers’ chief technology and information officer. “The agreement to acquire BAI Canada is a significant first step in modernizing and expanding the existing network to deliver enhanced 5G wireless service to millions of transit riders throughout the entire subway system in Canada’s largest city.”
Rogers also clarified to ITWC that it is planning to initiate discussions with other providers to participate, adding that Freedom Mobile’s agreement with BAI remains unchanged, meaning Freedom customers will continue to have the same wireless access on the TTC that they do today.
Beyond 911 calls, the rollout of 5G is expected to take approximately two years, as network installations will happen during limited overnight construction time windows so the subway remains operational for riders, Rogers said.
The release adds, “the completed 5G network will deliver seamless wireless coverage with mobile voice and data services in all 75 stations and almost 80 kilometres of Toronto’s subway system, part of Rogers’ commitment to expand connectivity for Torontonians.”
Former councillor Ana Bailao welcomed the news of the deal, saying she is “grateful” for all the campaigning that went into this, while the Beaches-East York councillor Brad Bradford contended, “Waiting two more years for this buildout to happen, when it should have happened a decade ago, is another example of the endless delays and deferral that hold Toronto back.”
Rogers’ acquisition of BAI is expected to close in the next two weeks.
Updated 1.16 PM-4/11/2023 with Rogers’ clarification to ITWC on Freedom’s agreement with BAI