Canada boasts a variety of cable and telecommunications operators, not all sporting Rogers red or the extensive Rogers portfolio.
Rogers Communications dominates the landscape, but not foremost as a cable company. Rogers Wireless counts 7.3 million wireless voice and data subs – or 37 percent of Canada’s wireless subs. The division generates roughly 40 percent of the company’s $10 billion-plus in revenue. Cable pulls in less than 30 percent.
But Canadian wireless is in transition. Since last summer’s auction, holders of Canadian wireless spectrum have been positioning their new assets, or strengthening their existing positions. (For a review of that auction, click here.)
"What occupies us these days is building fiber … to the cell sites," said Rogers Cable SVP Engineering and Network Operations Dermot O’Carroll at last week’s SCTE Canadian Summit. Rogers was the largest successful bidder on advanced wireless services (AWS) spectrum in terms of requested points.
Shaw Cablesystems, the second-largest successful bidder, remains in the "network design stage," said VP Engineering Dennis Steiger. One point of disruption is newfound competition among cable brethren.
"We’ve got to persuade Dermot to let us onto some towers," Steiger said, needling his co-panelist. "We’re popular these days," replied O’Carroll.
Popular, all around. A delayed collaboration with Apple has now kicked in, making Rogers the choice for some 130,000 new iPhone accounts. Overall, Rogers gained 200,000 new wireless subscribers last quarter.
Data and video
Dominant in wireless, Rogers also remains the largest in Canadian cable. As of last year, it served 2.3 million basic subscribers, or 30 percent of Canada’s basic sub base. It also counted 1.4 million digital, 1.5 million residential high-speed data, and 1 million phone subs.
As noted, Rogers Cable also is home to O’Carroll, the at-large director of the SCTE board for Canada. O’Carroll served as the program chair for last week’s Summit. (For more background on the event, click here.)
Joining O’Carroll on the Summit’s opening panel were engineering leaders Steve Irvine, director of Internet engineering and operations at Atlantic Canadian EastLink; Daniel Proulx, SVP engineering at Montreal-based Videotron; and Steiger, from the western Canadian Shaw Cablesystems.
However the wireless games play out (Videotron and Eastlink also have spectrum), the panelists talked about high-speed data as a strength and video as a concern.
As for data, Shaw President Peter Bissonnette put it this way last November: "Broadband service is really the glue that holds the bundle together." (For the complete interview, click here.)
Steiger echoed his boss at the Summit. "Internet is our anchor product now," he said. "It’s the No. 1 reason people come to Shaw; it’s the No. 1 reason they leave."
Giving subscribers more speed – and less reason to leave – is high on the Shaw agenda. "We’ll have (DOCSIS 3.0) in all our major systems this year," Steiger said.
Almost a year ago, Videotron launched its own pre-DOCSIS 3.0, three channel-bonded "tres grande vitesse" (very high speed) data service. The speed appears to be accelerating. Proulx mentioned 150 Mbps downstream at the Summit. (For more on the initial launch, click here.)
"We want to be the fastest, and we are," said Eastlink’s Irvine. "How quickly we roll (DOCSIS 3.0) out will be dependent on competitive pressures."
"Generally speaking, in Canada cable wins in speed," O’Carroll said.
What’s of more concern to O’Carroll is video, particularly the "archaic" user interfaces. "We are at a huge risk of becoming the incumbent in technology," he said.
Shaw has held back from expanding its offerings via switched digital video (SDV). "We like to keep things simple," said Bissonnette. But multi-lingual Videotron in Montreal and multi-cultural Rogers in Toronto are exploiting the technology via Bigband Networks and Cisco, respectively.
Regarding how video choices display to the subscriber, Videotron agrees with Rogers. "It’s all about the user interface," Proulx said.
– Jonathan Tombes
Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.