Canada is a big country but somebody has to cover it! Three national wireless carriers, Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility, provide services to 31 million Canadians. Another dozen facilities-based regional and local carriers reach over a million subscribers in targeted markets across the country.
Providing wireless services in Canada is a challenge. Canada’s land mass is a little bigger than the U.S. but the Canadian population is only 37 million compared to 328 million Americans. Canadians live from coast-to-coast, a span of over 3,000 miles. Many people reside in major metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec and Vancouver, British Columbia and a number of big municipalities in each province. But many more inhabit small towns and rural communities throughout the country’s wide-open spaces. It is often pointed out that roughly 90 percent of the Canadian population resides within 100 miles of the U.S. border, creating some interesting network planning scenarios.
The national wireless carriers have built state-of-the-art networks with backing from their wireline parent companies. Rogers Wireless is a subsidiary of Rogers Communications (NYSE: RCI), based in Toronto and Canada’s largest cable and media company. Core operations take place along the heavily populated southern Ontario to Montreal corridor and into the eastern Maritime provinces. With cableco financial backing and an early affiliation with AT&T, Rogers launched its wireless service across Canada.
Now the market leader with one-third market share, Rogers generated C$7.2 billion in service revenues and invested C$1.3 billion in its network in 2019. The company operates its 4G LTE on 700 MHz spectrum in all provinces and maintains its 3G HSPA+ network on 850 MHz. Rogers utilizes some Huawei radio gear in its network. The company is already moving in 5G in major cities on 600 MHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum with Ericsson as its prime RF equipment vendor.
Bell Mobility grew out of Toronto-based Bell Canada (NYSE: BCE), the largest Canadian telephone company. Bell Canada has operations throughout heavily-populated Ontario and Quebec, Manitoba to the west and adjoining provinces to the east. Bell Mobility has since expanded into western Canada in resource-rich British Columbia and Alberta. Bell’s 4G LTE/LTE Advanced network operates on AWS (1700/2100 MHz) in major markets across the country and on 700 MHz mainly in rural areas. Its 3G HSPA+ network is on 850/1900 MHz bands.
As the number two carrier, Bell Mobility garnered C$6.4 billion in 2019 revenues while investing nearly C$700 million in capex to serve 10 million subscribers. Bell continues to build out its 4G LTE/LTE A coverage. The company is looking ahead to 5G deployments with Nokia as its prime vendor.
From its wireline stronghold in British Columbia and Alberta and a key acquisition in eastern Quebec, Telus (NYSE: TU), based in Vancouver, has a wireless network that spans the country. Where it lacks coverage, Telus Mobility has a network sharing agreement with Bell Mobility for mobile voice and data calls on each other’s network which are almost identical. Telus delivers 4G LTE/LTE Advanced on AWS, 700 MHz and 2600 MHz in select areas while maintaining 3G HSPA+ on 850/1900 MHz bands in most cities.
For 2019, the company reported C$6.1 billion in revenues, C$889 in capex and 10.2 million connections. Field trials at 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz confirmed 5G performance for Telus and will bid for new spectrum at 600 MHz and other mmW bands in 2020 and 2021 auctions.
Discussion around Huawei’s presence in Canada has come up again. Huawei is a big wireless equipment supplier to Canadian carriers and has a formidable presence in Canada employing almost 1,000 people in R&D, engineering, sales and support. The U.S. is pushing its allies to remove Huawei equipment from their networks because of the perceived security threats. However, Canada and the UK, both parties to the Five Eyes intelligence partners, have demurred, suggesting they have a handle on the security issues. More important, the cost to “rip and replace” Huawei equipment already installed in Canadian networks is estimated at C$1 billion. For now, Canadian wireless carriers prefer to focus on their network expansion and upgrade plans and defer the Huawei issue.
By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor