Canadian wireless carriers not so eager to bring cellular service to TTC subway

Ian Hardy

August 18, 2013 8:08pm

Toronto commuters have been pining for subway cell service for years. Last October, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) awarded BAI Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Broadcast Australia, a $25 million contract to bring WiFi access to a total of 61 stations across Toronto by 2017. The immediate future will see them rollout two pilot projects to the St. George and Bloor-Yonge platforms sometime in 2014. BAI beat out Bell Mobility and Chicago-based Extenet Systems.

When the TTC contracted BAI they also noted that the contract may eventually pass WiFi and extend cellular service and need to have agreements in place with Canadian wireless carriers. The contract stated “the successful proponent shall be deemed to have sufficient wireless carriers contracted if it has contracted with a wireless carrier or wireless carriers that have at least 60% of the wireless subscribers within the City of Toronto.” Forming a relationship between BAI and various Canadians carriers is proving to be a challenge.

According to a report in the Financial Post, BAI has yet to engage in a contract with any of the carriers, which potentially might delay the project. Brian Jacks, CEO of BAI Canada, stated that “The [big three carriers], the guys that were here before, they would love nothing more than to build it themselves, but I’m not sure they’ve accepted the fact that we’ve actually won the license here.”

Rogers has said that they are “not in discussions with BAI at this time,” and TELUS spokesperson boldly said “we aren’t participating in this project.” As for Bell, a carrier who lost out on the contact, declared “We are not working with any third parties on TTC coverage.” However, BAI has been in contact with both newer players Public Mobile and WIND Mobile, but in “very early stages of research and evaluation.”

Apparently BAI has until December 5th to bring the carriers on board, but the TTC may grant them a 12-month extension until December 5th, 2014. If there has not been the ‘sufficient wireless carriers” needed by the Dec. 2014 date, the TTC could possibly transfer the contract to another organization. Which just might be the bigger game plan for the incumbent players.

(Thanks Darren!)

  • Astro

    of course not, the big three want all the money and to control it, they will make sure this company is sent packing …Robellus troll in 3…2…1…..

  • Marco Simone

    The big 3 don’t care about customers. It is evident. All they do is cry! Bring on VERIZON ASAP!

    • Zudeo

      I agree! I can’t wait till Verizon comes to the North. If they offer a better plan than Rogers, I’ll switch ASAP.

    • pb

      What about job loss? Americanized Canada….

    • AmarrVictor

      As opposed to Bell, who outsources Canadian jobs under a loophole introduced by the feds some time ago?

    • d a

      JOB LOSS, Are you kidding? Besides, the people they have get paid CRAP. Do you have any idea how much work these scum bags outsource? Do you not listen to the news?
      Rogers, Bell and Telus can go #$% themselves. We, the working poor see them for what they are, gluttonous pigs. They make capitalism look like a perversion. Probably because in this country morst business we feel we can’t do without often look like an oligopoly with government protection.

    • SmartGuy

      A significant amount of call centres for the big 3 for wireless and wireline are actually in Canada, where they pay quite well. Higher costs = higher prices for consumers btw

    • Orange Lada

      Better to lock in your plan now with Wind, if you can.

    • FiveOD

      It’s called business. No corporation “cares about customers” beyond the minimal effort that maintains their profit flow. You chumps are dreaming if you think a massive corporation like Verizon would act any differently once they got established.

  • disqus_kCPMN1BEYg

    If WIND get their act together and manages to bring reception to TTC it would be AMAZING

  • canuck07

    Here’s something the government can do. Mandate Verizon to have coverage in the all of the country’s subway system but give them exclusive access. Another way to get more people to use their network, which build up their customer base and the public benefits for more access and finally of course Robellus getting screwed.

  • Fawoo

    700mhz auction goes well, Verizon advances into Canada through Wind (and proposed expansion plans), Verizon announces a partnership with BAI for cellular coverage in subways (and even further in 2020+ wifi on other public transporation). The big 3 will be crying buckets as they lose customers in record speed.

    Ahh, only in dreams.

  • redheadednomad

    Unfortunately, BAI has to partner with a Telco that provides service to at least 60% of Toronto customers. That means that Verizon/another new entrant has to win the majority of subscribers over first, then roll out the TTC network.

    Meanwhie , Robellus just sit on their hands and scoff at Canadians, whilst churning out propaganda whining about the prospect of some competition.

  • Jonathan G.

    I don’t care to much about cell service really, if I can get (reliable) wifi service on the subway I would be more than enough happy.

    • Me Ted

      True. You could theoretically use VOIP if you simply had to make a call too. There are plenty of free services out there. My go to is Fongo.

  • Jack Lee

    getting reaaaaaal tired of your $hit robellus

  • Lukeiphone

    These guys need to fix their minds. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes no, sometimes uncertain. We need a YES or NO answer to cellular service in subways, not unertain

  • Stan

    Screw Canadian cell providers, money grabing machine with no giving back or sense of upgrading bring best to market… Contracts, limited data, limited everything, did i mention overpriced? Verizon is answer to many problems Canadians are facing because of monopoly and no competition closure between bell and telus…

    • Ulfredsson The Vanquisher

      I can agree on the money grabbing machine… but if there’s one thing they do is support a wide array of causes. Albeit as a tax benefit, but they still sign the cheque and promote events for (insert cause here).

      Verizon being the answer though? Yeahhhhhhh, no.
      Wind getting extra benefits to allow them to expand coverage and become more competitive is the answer. Why would you want an American company to come in and strong arm everyone, when you have an existing Canadian company up and running?

      Remember that whole CRTC 2 year fiasco? Sometimes the grass isn’t greener. Considering how “highly” in regard Verizon is held in the US… I see no reason to support them coming to Canada.

    • Stan

      Okay, i probably should off expanded my answer right away.
      I am from europe and there there is a healthy competition with fair prices and services .
      Why i would like Verizon to come, well because it will triger a competition between companies. Right now, at least in BC, bell allows use of their towers to telus and instead telus dont compit with them, and rogers, well they are in their own boat. Why Verizon is an answer, simple, canada is a decade behind in customer support from europe and coverage. I am not taking in consideration any small providers likre kodoo, wind, mobilicity, since they do t have market shares nor money evenly bark, not to act in development.
      Look at Vodafone in uk and across globe, go their uk web page and check the deals… Or did i mention direct support from manufacturer not some fing slow company like bell? Sorry for lengthy answer, to sum it up. Verizon is good for couple of reasosns, more competition , more money flow, thinking out of the Canadian box for contracts and bigger selection of phones :-D
      PS. Let it be peace and progress

    • Ulfredsson The Vanquisher

      The European model wouldn’t fly in North America unfortunately.
      It would promote healthy competition… I’m just saying, Verizon is the wrong company to allow into Canada. They are just like the incumbents, whereas giving benefits to an existing company (Wind) who does have a vested interest in Canada would be a better choice to back, IMO.

    • Stephen_81

      Verizon doesn’t bring more money flow to Canada, it brings LESS money flow to Canada as the profits from Verizon Canada go to the US.
      I would much rather see Vodafone from the UK come to Canada because the UK mobile phone model is different than that of Canada and the US. in Canada AND the US the Carriers are the same, both have “large” upfront costs for the device in addition to large mobile bills, the TCO on a mobile device in both Canada and the US is large. in the UK the method a contract is given is based on the device and often there is no upfront costs, the carriers negotiate with manufacturers to manage warranty claims, it costs them a little in margin dollars to do so but they give better service.

      Verizon is just a Bigger Bell/Telus/Rogers. we need someone who thinks differently in Canada.

    • Stan

      Well, as i said before, there is a need of someone else presence in order to create pressure on bjg 3. They will need to adapt, and having foreign company operates is better. Money flow i refered earlier is from states on building, buying, training equipment, people and stores. Verizon will be forced to have better deal to recoup their investments thus big 3 will be more bendable for better deals. Thats pretty much point government tries to bring over. My monthly bill is 88 bucks, thats more than enough in russia to pay for 9 month of service, so you would expect at least better service or plans, but im sitting on hspa+ with 1gb of data with no hotspots from bell… Just please… We need to make this big 3 butt to move and poop out some good deals. Look, there is already something came out of this situation finally 2 year contracts that looks appealing

    • Stephen_81

      The Money flow into Canada MIGHT equal the money flow out. I’ll give you that.

      as for pressure on the Big3, I agree something needs to happen, but selling ourselves to the US isn’t the way to do it. We sold our natural resources like Oil to the US, and that is proving good for Canadian pricing right? we’re so much cheaper than in the US… wait?

      We need a disruptive element in Mobile not just a deep pocket bigger brother.

    • SV650

      The EU has a well regulated wireless industry, which more likely figures in the prices available to consumers.

      A recent report by GSMA Mobile WIreless Performance indicates that compared to the US, the EU:
      – consumes 1/5 the minutes and 1/2 the data as US users
      – has a much lower penetration of LTE, many networks are just now beginning to roll out LTE
      – has always had a slower average data rate
      – has had a flat rate of infrastructure investment vs an increasing rate

      I expect that Canada is closer to the US than Europe in this instance.

      My understanding is that many users who travel throughout the EU, need buy multiple SIMs as there are few carriers who are EU wide. Also, there is a huge variation in rates between European nations, so be careful where you compare.

      Because of the above items, I am not sure that comparing EU prices to North American ones is valid.

    • Stan

      So why do think European model wont work? There is no difference in people nor usage. In my case i wont care if it would att or tmobile, it is just need an outside company to create a differentiate in contract world, bring more accessable month to month. Canada currently stuck in cdma era of contracts

    • Ulfredsson The Vanquisher

      Because the companies are too deeply ingrained in the economy and government for it to ever happen…

      It’s not that I think it *wouldn’t* work, it’s that it won’t ever happen…

  • Khristopher Ranger

    The big 3 again only caring about themselves. I would laugh so hard if Wind got to use it and nobody else.

    • Orange Lada

      I’d be thrilled :)

    • Ren596

      The BIG Three Deserve to EGG All over their faces on this issue

  • hoo dat

    I would piss myself laughing if Public and WIND wound up with cell coverage on the TTC, the irony of the last few weeks of whining and complaining about Verizon when an Australian company waltzes in and shows them how it’s done would just be too much to control!

    • Stephen_81

      I would LOVE to see WIND get coverage on the TTC, WIND needs to find a way to be a real alternative provider for people in Toronto.
      I am against bringing in new US companies to try and create competition in Canada and Think if WIND could secure something like this first it would help them get the needed numbers to start to expand.

  • SV650

    So, BAI agreed to pay the TTC $25.5 million to be the service provider of wireless connectivity in the Toronto subway system. They outbid Bell ($5.5 million) to get this contract. BAI now has to monetize this service. How might they accomplish this? They need to generate enough income to pay the TTC its $25.5 million, install and maintain the infrastructure, and supposedly return a profit. This puts ALL the carriers (none of whom have committed) in the position of deciding if the value is there. If they don’t garner enough extra customers by participating in this plan with BAI, then it makes no financial sense. The requirement of having to obtain contracts by December 2013 or 2014 is actually a nice out for BAI, as they can walk away from the contract with minimum penalty. Setting up a WiFi mesh on two subway platforms as a test bed is rather inexpensive.

    Getting 60% of the subscribed Toronto market would likely mean both Bell & Rogers would have to commit, as I expect the other players, including Telus, do not have enough of the Toronto market to partner with either Bell or Rogers to make the 60% level.

    While this is a great deal for the TTC (who wouldn’t want to add $25.5 million to the bottom line), I’m not sure it is for consumers, as someone is going to have to pay the piper (BAI).

    • CanadianGuy

      Excellent point. Disclaimer I do work for Bell, and was involved in the bid. We did our costing piece and realized the cost to invest in the underground piece and amount the ttc want for the rights to go in there and install on our own dime was X dollars. Then this Australian company comes in and bids 5x, without having any agreements with the actual providers or doing their blue diligence apparently. The TTC picked them, because the winning bid had to give a non refundable 2 million dollars regardless if they can orb do build it. We were prepared and had telus agreement which means we had over 60% of the market, but we’re not going to pay an Australian company 5 times the break-even. I suspect this contract will expire as per the terms, the TTC will be happy because they made fee money, and hopefully they will restart the request for bids, and this time actually accept a bid that is realistic and will allow us to provide the service our customers and we want.

    • rgl168

      It’s good that you said you can do it as cost X, but are your two bids equal? Does you bid X implement only HSPA for Bell and Telus only?

      I can’t read BAI’s mind nor have seen the contract, but let’s say if BAI’s intention is to bring every single cell phone provider available in Toronto to TTC (ie. Rogers+Bell+Telus+Wind+Mobi+PM), meaning they have to implement GSM+HSPA+CDMA networks within TTC (and I’m not even counting LTE) with complete testing for all six cell phone providers, their sub-brands and MVNOs (and don’t forget visitors from Saskatchewan and Manitoba who use SaskTEL and MTS) , then I do not believe a 5X bid is completely unreasonable.

    • TelecomGuru

      When you build an extension for a customer like this TTC RFP (we call them in-buildings in the industry, you factor in a DAS that is a hub that all other carriers can ride on, which Bell also did). FYI this is done quite commonly in public venues, airports, arenas, etc, where the landlord only allows one of the carriers to install the antennas and the others ride on the same infrastructure (but their own frequencies)… and the other carriers either pay partial costs or offers an equivalent venue where they built the access in exchange for access… the TTC bid is not unique in its requirements or structure, dozens of venues downtown GTA already have something like this setup. The part that is different is the TTC is asking for millions upfront for the “rights” to provide service, whereas most venues either offer it for free as a value to their clients, or charge rent for the antennas and facilities. Nonetheless Bell felt it was workwhile to pay TTC to have access, but not at any cost. 5 million + rent was justified (as we were going to share that cost with other carriers anyway), but the business case could not be justified for 25 million.

      BAI took a gamble, thinking they can bid higher, guarantee they win and then bully the providers in Canada to share their higher big costs. So far all of the big 3 told BAI goodluck. When you gamble, sometimes you lose. In this case consumers are loosing, until the contract expires and others can rebid again. Atleast the TTC is making money, because they kept BAI’s deposit, hopefully they use that money wisely to invest in some other infrastructure to benefit riders.

    • SV650

      You realize BAI’s bid was to pay the TTC $25.5 million for the privilege of hosting telecommunications on the TTC property? It is not the TTC paying BAI $25.5 million for installation of infrastructure.

      BAI has to recover the $25.5 million IN ADDITION TO paying the costs install and operate the system. Since they are not a local provider, they have to sweet talk the existing wireless providers into paying to be on the BAI backbone in the subway.

    • rgl168

      As I said, I haven’t seen the contract nor have any knowledge about the bidding process. I’m simply going by the wordings of this article: “Last October, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) awarded BAI Canada Inc… a $25 million contract to bring WiFi access to a total of 61 stations across Toronto by 2017.”

    • SV650

      That’s why it is ofttimes important to review the original article, rather than the paraphrase offered by aggregators such as Mobile Syrup. Fortunately, Mobile Syrup makes it east to do so, as there is a link at the bottom or their article.

      The original article indicates: “Bell Mobility Inc. bid $5.5-million for the 20-year lease, but came in much lower than Broadcast Australia Pty Ltd.’s offer of $25.5-million.” We actually have no idea what the actual build would cost.

  • Mischa Price

    the canada line in vancouver has full bars the whole way under the city, infact better reception under the city than at my house

    • Stan

      Canada line build in an expensive way, where it is not too much underground and it is just drilled and packed with cement tube. In other words not a nuclear shelter, and if understand correctly TTC build old fashion and appears to be a nuclear shelter that’s why there is difference in conectivity

  • Orange Lada

    I’m on WInd, use the TTC daily, and I can tell you that a lot of my fellow commuters will be jealous if I’m getting messages, and they aren’t.

    Bring it on, please – ignore Bell, Telus and Rogers; their subscribers will eventually move, just like they have been for internet, tv and phones.

    • hyperhyper

      I’m just shocked that the TTC does not yet have coverage.

  • Orange Lada

    The only reason I can think of is travel outside of local area. They are sketchy along parts of the 401, and only go as far north as Barrie. Business travellers may want other cities?

    As for me, Wind provides unlimited North American long distance, unlimited internet, voicemail, … oh hell ..EVERYTHING …. $35 a month.

  • ABCONMan

    So basically BAI, an Australian company, wants their competition to just hand over trade secrets and build out their network for them.

    Fat chance. It’s a business, not a charity.

    • hoo dat

      They’re not asking for anything of the sort. They’re simply asking the Big3 to quit pouting and acting like children and enter into a contract negotiations that should benefit all parties. Where on earth did you get the idea that “trade secrets” need to be exchanged? Where did you get the preposterous idea that BAI wants a network built out for them? Personally, after all the protectionist BS RBT has put us through over the last few weeks, I have serious concerns about their ability to play fair and compete in the face of serious competition.

  • bruins

    this is what happens when you go with the cheaper contract….

    • hoo dat

      BAI won the contract with a bid of $25M. The next closest bid was Bell’s at $5.5M, it’s almost like they just wanted to be seen to be participating. On what planet is BAI’s cheaper?

    • SV650

      BAI’s bid is ‘cheaper’ because they agreed to GIVE the TTC $20 million more than did Bell for equivalent service. This is a reverse bid, where the bidder pays the property owner for the privilege of being on the premises. Coke & Pepsi do the same to get exclusive rights to vend in facilities & schools.

  • Chowdder

    I can vouch for one reason. Reception. I used Wind for 2.5 years and was very happy with it. Recently I began work at a new place and I can barely get even 1 bar reception at work with Wind. I was forced to switch to Rogers, albeit with a very nice company plan, due largely to better reception.

    This is inherently a problem with the AWS frequency wind uses. For the time I was with wind, the signal would constantly drop out if you ventured into large buildings. This makes using their 3G data connection next to impossible. Added to the fact that I used to get download speed of 100 to 200 kbps during the day, it all makes for a very frustrating experience. I’m aware that the speed issue has gotten better in recent days, but the reception is difficult to remedy since its inherent to the type of network.

  • TP

    At this point I really believe that the government should step in and order these carriers to cooperate with BAI. Cellphone signals in TTC should have been essential service since long time ago, we cannot call Toronto a ‘global city’ ‘world class’ ‘modernized’ until this is fully implemented. It really is embarrassing that we call Toronto a world class city when we experience delays in TTC subway at least twice a week and we cannot even let our family/coworker/friend know that we are locked in the subway.

    • SV650

      Makes sense, as long as they don’t have to pay BAI for the use of the infrastructure AND the $25 million gift they gave the TTC to buy the successful bid.

  • hyperhyper

    The “Big 3″ is short for “Big 3 Babies”. Like infants, they cry a lot but when their base need is met (money and control), they go silent. The only real difference is that babies give a joy/love and happiness in return while Robellus/Big 3(or 1) only give you crap.

  • Yo Yo Ma

    For one, if companies are undergoing talks like these, they won’t necessarily provide a response. These are competitive secrets. They are not being subpoenaed by the media.

    Now please tell WHY must a private-entity (like Rogers, Bell or Telus) feel compelled to work with BAI, when they are fully capable of doing it themselves? The moment BAI entered a bid, they became a competitor.

    I am sure everyone here realizes that the Big 3 are entrenched in multiple lines of business, in telecom, and related sectors (media, data storage, health, etc.). They are in these businesses for economic reasons.

    If it makes economic sense for them to partner with BAI, they would. If it doesn’t make economic sense, they wouldn’t. Calling them “selfish” or “looking out for their own interest” is a testament to them succeeding at their raison-d’etre.

    Maybe Torontonians should talk to TTC about this 60% subscriber base condition. Maybe that number needs to be changed. That way you can have more open competition. (I’m not mistaken… the Big 3 would LOVE that clause… but as a private businesses, if they don’t push for it, then they are failing at their jobs. But maybe TTC can open up competition by removing/ amending the exclusionary clause.)

  • Ocliptor

    Anyone Else Notice The Man Picking His Nose?

    • A. Avanzado

      He was calling his mother using his rotary nose.

  • hoo dat

    A new foreign entrant is allowed to initially operate in Canada if they have less than 10% of the market share. That entrant can grow to far beyond that 10% as long as the growth is mostly through building infrastructure expansion and penetrating markets rather than through acquisitions.

  • Yo Yo Ma

    But the private business entity is supposed to be motivated by selfishness. So I don’t see how its a bad thin or counter-intuitive.
    For a business — customers, technology, government, etc. are all means to an end… an economic end.
    The Big 3 do help consumers out when it makes sense in terms of business objectives — latest high end devices, some of the first in LTE coverage roll outs and donating to social causes etc.
    Big 3 shareholders can take their dividends and capital gains and give back to the community if they wish.
    Maybe BAI should not have been taking part if they didn’t have the ability to fulfill their side of the deal. One doesn’t jump into a lake without a life-jacket if they can’t swim.

  • A. Avanzado

    Actually, it is not a bad idea that telecom companies bring cellular signal into TTC. However, I think it is also good that they don’t do it. Otherwise, people won’t stop talking on the phone. It kinda feels good to have that peaceful moment while traveling to work/home. I have been a TTC commuter for 20 years and I like the way it is.

    • TP

      Travel the world and you will see a whole number of cities implement cellphone/wifi signals in their subways and they are not any louder than TTC.

    • AlaninMontreal

      Most people don’t talk on the phone on public transit, but virtually everyone with a smartphone does pass the boring time by reading the news, catching up on Google+ or Facebook and chatting with friends. And for that reason, (bandwidth consumption) I don’t get why the Telco’s are not interested.

    • A. Avanzado

      I would partly agree with you but I live in Toronto and I have seen people talk in public transportation. These people talk as if they were sitting on their living room and no one else around them. Very inconsiderate and no sense of courtesy.

  • Ibby

    Of course, the three bitchiest companies in Canada, acting like the sore losers that they are.

  • ScooterinAB

    1) Stop talking about Verizon. That has nothing to do with this story, nor will Verizon entering the Canadian market on the back of a rainbow unicorn magically cause all carriers to fail. Deal with it. If you are so upset with your carrier, just man-up and leave. Canadians are tired of hearing your whining.

    2) It’s unfortunate that this initiative is being met with opposition. Successfully deploying better infrastructures for subways systems would have great results. Shame on Telus for opting out of the project. At least Rogers and Bell haven’t outright turned their back on it.

    I understand that this could be a huge money sink in the long term with almost no appreciable gain. That said, testing it out in a few stations will at least give a better idea of it’s worth as an investment. The company that has stable subway coverage in any city will have huge gains in those markets. we’ve hit the point where every carrier sells nearly every phone, and no one really cares about data speed anymore. Further innovations are needed to sustain this industry, and a move like this is one of those innovations.

    If a carrier is going to opt out of something like this, they better have a damned good reason why. It’s far too easy to misconstrue a failed agreement as petty and failed cash grab.

  • Stephen_81

    I wouldn’t call the Big3 Selfish. The fact Rural Canada has any infrastructure shows that the Big3 have a tiny bit of socialist in them, Bringing LTE to places like Orillia Ontario shows they are looking at benefit for more than just the areas that pay the majority of the bills.

    BUT The Big3 DO look out for their shareholders first and foremost which they technically are required to do by law. I do feel that Rogers and Telus should be looking to work with BAI in some way, I can appreciate the Bell refusal seeing as they lost the bid.

    It’s not like you want to go help your neighbour paint his house when he got all the paint you wanted so you can’t paint your own house.

  • mark roechner

    A simple solution, provide WiFi and use it as 3G/LTE data offload people, you can still make free calls over the WiFi network. No need to involve any of the incumbent Big 3 wireless players. It would cost less to not install Small Cell technology in the stations.
    During rush hr delays sms/text , Web surfing and content streaming can all come over WiFi, I don’t think we need 100’s of users per Car having loud conversations on their Cell Phones while riding the Better way.