TORONTO – A review of Canada’s broadband internet services by the country’s competition watchdog is overlooking a critical issue when it comes to wireless technology, according to veteran telecom entrepreneurs who have battled the big carriers for years.
The Competition Bureau announced last week that it will study ways to improve competition in the broadband wireline market, given that 87 per cent of Canada’s internet subscriptions are with a few traditional phone or cable companies such as Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw or Quebecor’s Videotron.
But even though most of them are integrating their fibre optics and fifth-generation wireless networks to serve households, businesses and whole cities, the Competition Bureau is only planning to look at the wireline side of the broadband business and leave wireless to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
Globalive Capital chairman Anthony Lacavera believes the Competition Bureau is on the right track but “they must do a similar analysis and report on wireless.”
“Why would a consumer be concerned about fixed broadband when 5G is 24 months away from being widely available?” Lacavera asks rhetorically.
“As consumers realize they can download a movie on a 5G network in, literally, a few seconds, that’s going to cause — I believe — a significant acceleration off of fixed broadband.”
Graham Fletcher, founder and owner of the Internet Centre in Edmonton, also said in an interview that “it does not make sense to limit the scope of the exercise to landline broadband internet.”
His company offers a variety of telecom services — including broadband internet and phone services — using a combination of land lines and fixed wireless transmission that beams signals to buildings where wiring doesn’t reach.
Fletcher said the big carriers’ 5G networks will use wireless technology that must also carry some traffic over landline fibre optics. He argues smaller ISPs should be able to rent the same facilities at a reasonable price.
“When 5G goes up and it goes up on a tower, or a building . . . they should rent us access to their infrastructure for our own customers.
Disbributel CEO Matt Stein, who is also vice-chairman of the industry group Canadian Network Operators Consortium Inc., said he thinks both the wireless and the wireline industries bear scrutiny but he sees them as still separate.
“They traditionally are viewed as two different products and we’re not yet seeing the same buyer comparison-shopping one versus the other,” Stein said. “They really do play out in a different bit of a market.”
Stein said he doesn’t see an immediate benefit for the Competition Bureau to look at wireless as well as wireline broadband services, but he wouldn’t object to such a move.
But Lacavera — who sold Globalive’s Yak and OneConnect broadband businesses to Distributel last year — said he believes resellers will “really need to be making their case in Ottawa much more assertively, and much more successfully, than has happened in the last three to five years.”
And Fletcher, who has been fighting the larger networks for more than two decades, said he thinks 5G networks will be significant competitors for the clients his company has in rural parts of Alberta.
“It’s going to be a very powerful technology and that’s why we’re very concerned at CNOC, and my company, to make sure that we have access to it for all the right reasons.”
Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE, TSX:RCI.B, TSX:T, TSX:QBR.B, TSX:SJR.B)