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Action at the ‘Summit’

Heavy hitters from the telecom industry in attendance at annual event.


July 1, 2007  


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It is understandable if Mark Goldberg and Michael Sone, the co- founders of the Canadian Telecom Summit, feel like a couple of lucky gamblers on a roll at a blackjack table.

As Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, noted in his speech at the 2007 edition held at the Toronto Congress Centre, this is the third year in a row in which the event has occurred during a time of “high drama” in the Canada’s telecommunication sector.

In 2005, the Summit occurred soon after the CRTC issued its decision on the regulation of local telecom services that use VoIP. Last year, federal industry minister Maxime Bernier announced his intention to direct the CRTC to rely on “market forces to the maximum extent possible” within the scope of the Telecommunications Act.

“Today, at this year’s Summit, the sense of drama continues,” said von Finckenstein. “We meet at a time when major shifts are occurring in the telecom world. The technological and regulatory ground is moving under our feet.”

That point was noted time and again by dozens of senior executives and an assortment of politicians over the course of three days, who either delivered keynote speeches or spoke on panels about subjects that ranged from competition in mobile wireless services and rise of IP-TV to unified messaging trends and making the case for Wi-Fi.

Key among the Wi-Fi proponents was David Dobbin, president of Toronto Hydro Telecom, whose presentation focused on the do’s and don’ts of implementing a broadband wireless network.

The telecommunications subsidiary of Toronto Hydro Corp., which owns more than 450 kilometres of fiber, has installed radio access points (RAPs) on streetlight poles throughout a six square kilometer area in the city’s downtown core in order to create the largest Wi-Fi zone in Canada.

Upwards of 235 city blocks currently have Wi-Fi coverage via 225 RAPs and 25 fiber connection points installed on poles owned by Toronto Hydro Streetlighting Inc.

“You build a business case on a solid commercial model,” said Dobbin. “In our case, it revolves purely around Internet subscriptions. We have achieved the speed, coverage and scalability that puts Toronto on the cutting edge of wireless technology.”

Meanwhile, on the regulatory side, Bernier focused on spectrum (see also p. 28) and radio frequencies, which together form the basis for wireless transmission.

“Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the importance of spectrum,” he said. “The media rarely mention it, but the broadcasting industry would not exist without (it) and the telecommunications industry would be much smaller.”

Bernier, who approved a new spectrum policy framework in mid-June, added that the next wave of innovation depends on spectrum and as a result, countries that have flexible policies will attract innovators, researchers and investments. Those that do not will fall behind.

According to Robert Depatie, president and CEO of Videotron Ltd., when it comes to wireless penetration, Canada is already lagging behind. “(It) is low because Canadians have not benefited from the fruits of wireless competition,” he said. “The way to kick-start the market, the way to drive the benefits of wireless into the hands of more Canadians and the way to lighten the bills for current customers is to add more competitors to the cozy Canadian marketplace.”

Depatie noted that a recent study conducted by the SeaBoard Group found that Canadian wireless prices were 56% higher for average users, and 33% higher for heavy users than prices for comparable services in the U.S.

Pierre Blouin, CEO of MTS Allstream Inc., said one way to end such discrepancies is to re-write the rules in the upcoming wireless spectrum auction so that new entrants can participate in order to increase competition, innovation and productivity.

“The notion of a so-called open auction where the highest bidder wins, may be appealing to some because it is simple, but it is also simplistic in our opinion,” he said.

“In fact, it runs counter to the national goal of increasing competition, which the true benefit for Canada. A so-called ‘open’ auction would strengthen the Big 3 national wireless providers. It would create an insurmountable barrier to entry for any new competitors, a barrier that did not exist in the past …

Allstream, added Blouin, believes that a fourth national wireless provider can and would spur innovation and competition.