Toronto Subway Cellular Network Plans Crabbed by the Incumbents

by Istvan Fekete on August 20, 2013

Canada’s big telcos aren’t interested in bringing Toronto commuters online while using the city’s underground subway system. Despite placing the winning bid for the Toronto Transit Commission’s project for designing, supplying, installing, hosting, and maintaining the Wi-Fi network of the subway system’s 61 existing and planned tunnels and station platforms, none of the big three is in talks with the BAI Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Broadcast Australia Pty Ltd.

The reason is pretty straightforward: none of them is willing to pay to use the network built by another company. But what is concerning is that we have seen only Bell showing interest in providing connectivity in this area.

According to a report from the Financial Post, BAI has one year from the time its agreement with the TTC was signed — back in December last year — to get enough carriers on board to provide service for roughly 60% of Toronto’s cellular subscribers.

In case it fails to convince enough carriers, the contract will be extended by another 12 months, which is enough time to see whether BAI succeeds or not. The worst case scenario says the contract could be transferred to another interested party, which, in this case, could be Bell. The carrier placed a weak $5.5 million bid, while BAI said it will pay a $25.5 million lease for the 20-year period.

Here is what the incumbents say: “Rogers is not in discussions with BAI at this time,” a spokesperson said in response to a list of emailed questions.

“We aren’t participating in this project,” a Telus spokesperson noted. As for Bell: “We are not working with any third parties on TTC coverage.”

The struggling wireless startups, however, seem to be interested in a deal, but the decision will likely not arrive for a couple of months. This means Toronto commuters will probably have to wait another year to get online in the subway tunnels as well, or at least see some action made in this direction.

A representative from WIND Mobile, who said the carrier is in “the very early stages of research and evaluation”. “Basically, we’re interested, but we will need to continue evaluating the situation as the project progresses before making any decisions.”

This wouldn’t be the first plan derailed by carrier disinterest: a similar agreement signed with the Société de transport de Montréal was cancelled last year after a Chicago-based company, ExteNet Systems Inc., hit the same roadblock that BAI is now trying to overcome.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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