Talking point: Earlier this month, Bell announced it would work with Ericsson to build its 5G network but left the door open to using the lower-cost Huawei if the federal government permits it. The federal government has been considering whether to permit Huawei in its networks since September 2018. Rogers launched its own 5G network in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto earlier this year. The major telecoms had been trying to get suppliers in place ahead of the 3,500 Mhz spectrum auction, a key band for rural 5G deployments. Earlier this month Ottawa delayed that auction by six months to July 2021.
Stockholm-based Ericsson will provide radio access network equipment for Bell’s 5G network, an initial version of which is ready, but has yet to be launched. Telus will work with Ericsson and Finland-based Nokia, which has already partnered with Bell. (The Logic)
Talking point: Canada’s telecoms are forging ahead making deals with suppliers while they await a federal decision on whether to allow the use of Huawei’s technology in Canada’s 5G networks. Telus has previously said it would use equipment from the Chinese company in its 5G network; Bell has partnered with Huawei on 5G in the past, and on Tuesday it did not rule out a role for the company in its network. “Huawei has been a reliable and innovative partner in the past and we would consider working with them in 5G if the federal government allows their participation,” a company spokesperson said.
The acquisition, which is expected to close in the second half of 2020, will generate $150 million in yearly revenue for the California-based company. The deal includes a strategic partnership between Bell and Equinix, the world’s largest data centre and colocation provider. (The Canadian Press)
Talking point: “This transaction strengthens Bell’s strategy to focus on investing in the network infrastructure, content and services needed to transform the way Canadians communicate with each other and with the world,” said Bell CEO Mirko Bibic. Bell will continue to own and operate five data centres in the country. For Equinix, it represents a major expansion in Canada, where it’s been active for more than a decade; the company gets 500 net new clients via the transaction.
Los Angeles-based Quibi markets itself as a mobile-first video-streaming platform, with shows clocking in at 10 minutes or less. CTV News and TSN will both produce daily shows for the service, which is set to launch in Canada on April 6 at a monthly price of $6.99, or $9.99 without ads. (The Logic)
Talking point: Quibi already has a star-studded marquee, with series in the works from Chrissy Teigen, Kendall Jenner, Steph Curry and Idris Elba. Earlier this week, the company closed its second round of funding worth US$750 million, bringing total investment in the firm to US$1.75 billion. Although hardly anyone has seen the product, the reputation of its founder, Jeffrey Katzenberg, seems to inspire confidence: he’s a Hollywood veteran who ran Disney’s movie studio in the 1980s and ‘90s and co-founded DreamWorks Animation. And Katzenberg doesn’t plan to compete in the streaming wars in which companies like Netflix and Disney Plus are engaged. He sees his platform as more in line with Instagram, YouTube or TikTok—apps where users can pass the time, or where you can “amuse yourself until you’re dead,” as The New York Times Magazine rather bleakly put it.
The telecom is looking to connect 275,000 commercial and residential locations with fibre internet. It claims the investment will create over 1,100 new jobs and $900 million in economic activity. (The Logic)
Talking point: The $400-million spend is part of a $1-billion commitment Bell made to improve telecom services in Manitoba when it purchased Manitoba Telecom Services in 2017. The spend will support “the emergence of Winnipeg and Manitoba as a regional tech hub and will expand upon the infrastructure required to support Manitoba’s growing IT sector and innovation,” according to Ralph Eichler, Manitoba economic development minister.Bell CEO Mirko Bibic has warned that his firm will spend “significantly less” if federal regulators significantly change laws to give the firm’s smaller competitors more access.
According to unindexed pages on its website, the Montreal-based company is hawking a “high performance” suite of facial recognition software able to identify images of faces in real time, run behaviour detection software to detect “unusual activities” as well as “identify high net worth depositors” and “premium customers.” The company told La Presse it wasn’t selling facial recognition “at the moment,” and that the pages were promotional in nature to “gauge the level of potential interest in this service.” Bell didn’t return The Logic’s requests for further comment. (La Presse)
Talking point: The software Bell wants to resell, NeoFace, is the same product used by the Calgary police since 2014 and by London’s Metropolitan Police Service as of January, following a trial period. Developed by Japan-based NEC, it will be used during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Clients of Bell’s facial recognition product would have to register were they to use it in Quebec, which mandates disclosure of “biometric databases” in the province. According to Quebec’s access-to-information commission, five companies currently use such databases within the province’s borders: Mastercard and Mastercard International, holding company CSH-HCN, Vantage Data Centers and Georges O. Dubois.
The Chatham, Ont.-based internet firm claims the two telecom giants manipulated wholesale internet prices, driving up costs for millions of Canadians by hundreds of millions of dollars. TekSavvy is seeking a monetary penalty of $10 million for each telecom, as well as an order for Bell and Rogers to change how they price their products. Speaking at the ongoing CRTC wireless hearings on Friday, Andy Kaplan-Myrth, TekSavvy’s vice-president of regulatory and carrier affairs, also said the company had unsuccessfully negotiated with an unnamed incumbent wireless carrier to buy access to its network at wholesale rates. He called for policies to enable mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)—which operate through such agreements—with no requirement to build infrastructure. (The Logic)
Talking point: This is the latest salvo in a multi-front battle being waged between smaller telecoms and major incumbents. One front is the Federal Court of Appeal, where Bell and Rogers have secured a temporary stay so they don’t have to lower prices for wholesale sellers like TekSavvy. TekSavvy mentioned that court case repeatedly in its call, and urged the Competition Bureau to open an investigation despite the ongoing case. Another front is with federal regulators, toward which the major telecoms are increasingly amping up their rhetoric. The CEOs of Bell and Rogers have warned they’ll reduce investments if regulators rule against them. And, on Thursday, Telus CEO Darren Entwistle said it would cut $1 billion in investment and 5,000 staff if the federal government mandates MVNOs. For its part, the Competition Bureau has issued a number of telecom reports recently—including one earlier this week calling for the introduction of some MVNOs—but has not announced a public investigation targeting specific firms.
Company representatives told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s wireless hearings that a resale model—under which mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) without their own infrastructure or spectrum would get regulated access at set rates to existing networks—would lead to reduced investment, innovation and service quality. CEO Mirko Bibic said the proposed policy would mark a major regulatory change as firms start to roll out 5G networks. (MobileSyrup, The Globe and Mail)
Talking point: The Big Three carriers have repeated their arguments against MVNOs—primarily that the wireless market is already competitive, and requiring them to sell space disincentivizes investment—frequently since the CRTC indicated a shift in its position in March 2019. Bibic has been particularly outspoken on the issue, calling it “really bad public policy” to set a regulatory objective of having “the cheapest communications services in the world.” The presence of the new CEO at the CRTC hearing underscores the importance of the MVNO outcome for major telecom firms.
In a presentation to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Pierre Karl Péladeau—whose empire includes television stations, an internet provider, a wireless network, an internet radio station, a hockey arena and several media titles in Quebec—claimed Bell’s ubiquity was “Orwellian” and a “public menace.” “I don’t think Bell Media is the one dominating,” Bell Media Quebec president Karine Moses told The Canadian Press. (The Logic, The Canadian Press)
Talking point: This most recent prise de bec between PKP and Bell comes as the company looks for CRTC approval of its purchase of French-language TV network V. In reaction to the sale, Quebecor has launched ‘Big Bell’, a website cataloguing (and scare-quoting) all of Bell’s media properties. PKP’s enmity for crosstown rival Bell is long, deep-seated and language-based; he has called Bell “my little friends in Toronto,” the lowest of insults in these parts—even though BCE headquarters are actually a short Uber ride from Quebecor’s.
The telecom reported $0.67 earnings per share, below the $0.69 consensus analyst estimate. Fourth-quarter operating revenue hit $6.3 billion and the firm hiked its dividend by five per cent. (The Logic)
Talking point: The Nokia selection follows a U.K. decision to partially ban Huawei that’s costing British telecoms hundreds of millions of dollars. Bell already uses Huawei equipment in its network, and this decision doesn’t shut the door to using the Chinese telecom’s technology completely, as Nokia is flagged as Bell’s “first” 5G equipment supplier. For the coming year, Bell is planning capital intensity of about 16.5 per cent. That follows rival Rogers’s announcement last month that it will spend $2.9 billion on communications infrastructure. Bell said its initial focus for 5G deployment will be urban centres. The firm said it’s ready to deliver 5G “as next-generation smartphones come to market in 2020.”