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A Letter to Mr. Rogers

Congratulations on your acquisition of Microcell, but now what? More than a million Fido customers would like to know.


November 1, 2004  


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Dear Ted: As the top dog at Rogers Com-munications Inc., you know all about magazine lead times so it will come as no surprise that I am writing this column several weeks before this issue lands with a thump and a flutter in readers’ mailboxes.

What that means is your empire has not yet completed its acquisition of Microcell, the scrappy company behind the Fido wireless service.

But with Microcell recommending acceptance to shareholders, by the time you read this the dog will be in your ken- nel “unless,” as a friend of mine says, “something stupid happens.” I will assume that Stupid stayed home. (Editor’s note: It did.) Therefore, let me join the chorus and offer my congratulations.

As Microcell’s ads used to say, “You are the Master” — of not just one Fido, but all 1.275 million of them (including, as a glance at my phone number will confirm, mine).

So, now what? This question is surely on the minds of those 1.275 million customers.

Incompatibilities

Many of us were a bit worried when it looked like Telus was going to buy Microcell. Yes, Telus (or Bell, or others for that matter) would have done a fine job of providing wireless services to us.

But as you are aware, the telcos’ CDMA digital mobile technology is incompatible with Fido’s GSM, and Telus had indicated it would migrate Fido customers to CDMA.

We are pleased, therefore, that Rogers Wireless also uses GSM. We can keep our existing phones and all the other things we like about the technology. (Not that there’s anything wrong with CDMA: it’s stronger than GSM in some ways, and weaker in others.

But many of us considered these relative merits when we chose our wireless service in the first place: I for one would miss GSM’s effortless and elegant global roaming abilities.)

Furthermore, your purchase of Microcell gives me and many other Fido faithful hope that we will soon enjoy a much more extensive Canadian network.

For example, it will be good to have uninterrupted highway coverage from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal.

But you are getting something else with Microcell — something unique in the Canadian telecom sector. (You know this, but my readers may not, so bear with me.)

As I write this, your company is looking at how to introduce competitive local phone service. It is expected that Rogers will use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based solution running on its cable network.

But unless you can convince the CRTC to regulate telco VoIP offerings while letting Rogers play as an unregulated provider, you are looking at a long and nasty battle.

Instead, I remind you that in buying Microcell, you have purchased a real alternative to the incumbent telcos’ service — one that is already up and running.

I am talking about CityFido of course, the only local service in Canada that is not chained to the house.

The telcos appear unwilling to match CityFido and why would they want to? Let’s face it, if Canadians replace their home phones with mobiles, a lot of copper will be sitting in the ground not making any money.

The incumbents’ systems have been tailor-made for voice and perfected over the past 100 years, but without that voice traffic they would be horribly inefficient.

No, the phone companies will keep us yabbering on their legacy systems as long as they can.

But there is plenty of incentive for you: CityFido is a hit in Vancouver and Toronto, the two cities in which it has been deployed, and it’s taking money from telco pockets.

What is more, Microcell has laid the groundwork: It has cleared the technical and regulatory hurdles, done the market research and launched the service.

I could go on at length but I am running out of space, so I will conclude with this: all that is preventing CityFido from becoming a serious, nationwide provider of local phone service is better network coverage and the backing of a bigger company — both of which Rogers can provide.

That, and a little bit more time.

Thanks for reading, Ted. I hope your Blue Jays go all the way in 2005.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry, six-year Fido/CityFido customer, and one-time Microcell employee. He can be reached at 416-878-7730 or trevor@words-tm.com.