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Vidéotron Launches 4G LTE Network in Quebec With Speeds Up to 40Mbps

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Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator, has switched on its upgraded 4G LTE wireless network for the benefit of its mobile customers, offering real world wireless speeds up to 40Mbps.

LTE-capable devices will automatically connect to the new wireless network immediately, boosting speeds and network performance. Customers with older devices that are LTE-compatible may need a new LTE SIM card, available at any of the company’s stores at no charge.

“At Videotron, innovation is rooted in 50 years of history,” commented Manon Brouillette, president and CEO of Vidéotron. “Today, we have reached another watershed in our progress by bringing consumers this state-of-the-art mobile network.”

Vidéotron is a smaller player in a wireless market dominated by Bell (33% market share), Rogers (29%), and Telus (28%) but has grown significantly since the 2008 spectrum auction that allowed the cable operator to build out the wireless network in launched in 2010. Today the company has more than 550,000 customers and between 10-13 percent of the market, mostly in Quebec where Vidéotron’s network reaches 90 percent of the province.

Ottawa is watching the cable company’s performance closely, perhaps believing Vidéotron is Canada’s best hope to be the fourth largest carrier in the country. But most of the company’s wireless facilities are in Quebec and it is unknown if Vidéotron can or will be able to build a nationwide network of its own.

HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

Montreal Prepares to Say Goodbye to Analog Cable

Phillip Dampier August 22, 2012 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Vidéotron Comments Off

Analog cable service is on the way out in Montreal.

Vidéotron Ltd. has stopped accepting orders for analog cable service from new customers as it prepares to make the transition to all-digital operation sometime in 2013.

The cable operator, dominant in Quebec, wants to dump analog service to make room for additional HD channels and faster broadband service, and although the company has retained a few dozen analog channels in some areas for the benefit of hotel operators and budget-minded seniors, the time has come to turn the lights out on the 60 year old technology.

Vidéotron is transitioning its customers hanging on to analog service in chunks, according to a report in the Gazette.  The vast majority of those customers are seniors, but hotel rooms also comprise a substantial percentage of the 412,000 holdouts.

Vidéotron experimented with a partial transition to digital in the Gatineau region, cutting analog service to just 30 channels. To entice customers to switch to digital, Vidéotron offered free digital set-top boxes to existing analog customers and special promotional packages that gave them digital service at the analog price. Company officials say it is unlikely customers across the Island of Montreal would get similar deals, but some price concessions on equipment are likely.

Vidéotron hopes the transition will make room for up to 100 new HD channels on a system that currently has just 71. The cable operator is facing increasing competition from Bell’s Fibe TV and satellite service, which provides a larger selection of HD channels, particularly for Anglophones in the province.

New Cell Tower Nightmare: Industry Canada Math Intrudes on Reality

Phillip Dampier June 13, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Vidéotron, Wireless Broadband Comments Off

Canadians: Get ready for more cell towers in your neighborhood.

Industry Canada’s fuzzy math threatens to allow cell phone companies to erect new cell towers in some of the country’s most scenic areas, which often coincidentally offer the best reception.

Residents in Pontiac, Quebec are learning that first-hand, as Industry Canada approves a controversial proposal from Vidéotron to install an 82-meter cell tower in the middle of a vista that tourist officials use in brochures to promote travel in the Ottawa River region.

It turns out the regulator now only considers an antenna’s base as a factor in determining whether to approve a new cell tower. That base amounts to just one square meter, “too small” by Industry Canada’s standards to conduct an environmental assessment. No matter that the antenna will tower nearly 270 feet into the skyline. Industry Canada is only interested in measuring the three legs of the tower (each leg is evaluated individually, not collectively), and at just one tiny meter, it isn’t worth their time.

That means local residents will have to contend with a new tower 25-stories high. As the Ottawa Citizen puts it, Vidéotron’s tower is smaller in the government’s eye than any pre-fabricated garden shed from Home Depot, which often requires a permit to install.

The new tower will be installed on Hurdman Heights, much to the consternation of area residents and naturalists opposed to its presence, ruining what many call the most scenic place in the region.

The local government of Pontiac has opposed the new Vidéotron tower since it was first announced, but the cable/wireless company pulled an end run around the municipality claiming there was a negotiating impasse and local officials would not meet to work it out, a good enough reason for the regulator to approve the new tower. Pontiac Mayor Eddie McCann says there was no impasse and the local council has been trying hard to reach a deal with the telecommunications company and never cut off talks:

“I myself had two or three meetings on sites with the representatives of Vidéotron,” he said. “As far as saying we were not responsive or willing to discuss — it’s pretty near stupid. We even offered our own municipal land as an option but they said it was too far between their existing towers.” He was exploring other possible sites as well.

“In fact it was Industry Canada that were non-responsive to us,” he said. “They accepted the proposal of Vidéotron without consulting us at all.”

And he believes Industry Canada could impose the same authority in any municipality.

“Certainly for anybody from Industry Canada to say that the municipality wasn’t interested in working out an arrangement was just ridiculous.”

Resident James Riordan wrote to Minister Christian Paradis last month objecting that the “impasse” was a misunderstanding somewhere, and had in fact never occurred.

A letter from the minister’s office tells him to take his objection to Vidéotron, and adds “the Department considers the matter closed.”

Vidéotron Announces 200Mbps Service for Quebec City, Beating Bell’s 175Mbps

Phillip Dampier June 4, 2012 Bell (Canada), Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Vidéotron Comments Off

Quebec City residents are enjoying the benefits of an Internet speed race between incumbent cable operator Vidéotron Ltée and telephone company Bell, with both bringing some of Canada’s fastest Internet speeds to the provincial capital.

Vidéotron Ltée announced it will introduce 200Mbps service in the city after completing a network upgrade. The company was undoubtedly responding to increasing competition from Bell, which is installing fiber optic upgrades in the city and selling speeds up to 175Mbps to area consumers and businesses.

The cable company has faced Bell’s Fibe TV service and has lost customers as a result. Now, Vidéotron is trying to regain its footing with upgrades of its own, including the introduction of Illico, which expands on-demand options and provides flexible access to recorded shows on computers, phones, and tablet devices.

Bell’s personal video recorder (PVR) set top box lets customers watch recorded programs on any television in the home, and can also record multiple concurrent shows. Vidéotron hopes Illico will help expand viewing options further for their customers.

Vidéotron Secretly Filming Technicians on Fake Service Calls; Watch the Results

Phillip Dampier May 10, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Video, Vidéotron 3 Comments

Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator, is secretly filming some of their technicians on fake service calls to verify they are providing professional service to the company’s customers.

But instead of keeping the results to themselves, the company is publishing the resulting videos to their website for customers to enjoy.

A total of 21 technicians were put to the test, and the company set up some outrageous challenges for them to overcome, starting with a single woman trying to convince her mother the technician was her boyfriend, with comical results.

While we are unlikely to see the Vidéotron technicians that failed the tests, the company has launched a publicity campaign to praise itself for excellent service.

“Our conscientious technicians are ambassadors for Vidéotron and its values,” said Manon Brouillette, president of consumer markets. “We are very proud of them. They have achieved an impressive 96% customer satisfaction rate and this campaign is a tip of the hat to their great work.”

Putting technicians to the test, especially those working for third-party subcontractors, might not be a bad idea for some U.S. cable companies to try, especially after some of those technicians were later arrested for sexual assault, theft, and other crimes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Videotron -- The technician trap.flv

Watch Vidéotron’s first edition of its hidden camera trap for company technicians, when a single woman gets in over her head with a little white lie.  (2 minutes)

 

Cell Phone Companies Hoarding Cash/Credit for Spending Blitz on Canadian Spectrum

Upcoming wireless spectrum auctions are critically important for some of Canada’s newest players in the cell phone marketplace.  Most are working hard to make sure they have plenty to spend to secure new frequencies for advanced wireless services that will help them remain competitive with larger players.

Globalive Holdings, the parent company of Wind Mobile, has convinced backers to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in financing, so long as all of the money is spent on acquiring wireless spectrum.

Wind’s nearly 400,000 customers will appreciate the additional room for growth, and new customers may keep Wind in mind for advanced 4G networks most Canadian providers intend to build and expand into the new spectrum they acquire at an auction next year.

Much of the funding, estimated to approach nearly a half-billion dollars, is coming from Wind’s parent entities, Egypt-based Orascom Telecom and the European conglomerate VimpelCom that acquired Orascom earlier this year.  Because the Canadian government is expected to set-aside some of the valued 700MHz spectrum exclusively for bidding among new entrants in the market, Wind could walk away a big winner, particularly if other similar-sized competitors Mobilicity and Vidéotron Ltee./Quebecor have trouble raising enough money to remain competitive in the bidding.

As far as Canada’s largest cell companies are concerned, set-asides are unnecessary and they prefer a winner-take-all auction.  Rogers, in particular, has been lobbying hard to convince Canadian officials it needs access to the 700MHz spectrum up for auction to roll out service in rural communities and upgrade networks in larger cities.

Those who feel Canada’s cell phone marketplace is already too concentrated have little sympathy for Rogers’ point of view, and expect an auction free-for-all will mean the largest incumbent players will walk away with everything they can bid on.

Among smaller players, assuming the set-asides are in place, analysts expect Wind will probably secure the most spectrum, but Vidéotron is expected to stay competitive and walk away with at least some frequencies for use in its home province of Quebec.  Big losses among the smaller players could fuel calls for additional mergers and acquisitions among those carriers deemed to have been left behind.

The Canadian government is expected to be the biggest winner of all, netting a potential $3-4 billion from the spectrum sale.

Montréal métro to Get Underground Cell Service by 2013; Wi-Fi Later

Phillip Dampier October 13, 2011 Bell (Canada), Canada, Rogers, Telus, Vidéotron, Wireless Broadband 3 Comments

A joint venture between Rogers, Videotron, Bell and Telus will bring major improvements in cell phone service in Montréal’s métro by the end of 2013.

Isabelle Tremblay, a spokesperson for the Société de transport de Montréal, which manages the métro system, told the Montréal Gazette there has been a plan in place for several years to have a cellular network in the subway tunnels, which are often cell-phone-free zones because of reception problems.

Montreal métro provides coverage in these areas of Montreal.

None of the carriers involved would confirm the report, originally published in La Presse, but subway cell phone networks are not unprecedented.  Both New York and Washington, D.C. have cell service provided by underground antennas.  Many trains now also provide Wi-Fi service, and Montréal is expected to be no different.

Tremblay said Wi-Fi would come after cell phone service is established.  In most cases, carriers use third party contractors to construct and manage the networks on their behalf.  Only existing customers get to access the respective networks.

Canada’s Fiber Future: A Pipe Dream for Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and B.C.

Fiber optic cable spool

For the most populated provinces in Canada, questions about when fiber-to-the-home service will become a reality are easy to answer:  Never, indefinitely.

Some of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers have their minds made up — fiber isn’t for consumers, it’s for their backbone and business networks.  For citizens of Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver coping with bandwidth shortages, providers have a much better answer: pay more, use less Internet.

Fiber broadband projects in Canada are hard to find, because providers refuse to invest in broadband upgrades to deliver the kinds of speeds and capacity Canadians increasingly demand.  Instead, companies like Bell, Shaw, and Rogers continue to hand out pithy upload speeds, throttled downloads, and often stingy usage caps.  Much of the country still relies on basic DSL service from Bell or Telus, and the most-promoted broadband expansion project in the country — Bell’s Fibe, is phoney baloney because it relies on existing copper telephone wires to deliver the last mile of service to customers.

Much like in the United States, the move to replace outdated copper phone lines and coaxial cable in favor of near-limitless capacity fiber remains stalled in most areas.  The reasons are simple: lack of competition to drive providers to invest in upgrades and the unwillingness to spend $1000 per home to install fiber when a 100GB usage cap and slower speeds will suffice.

The Toronto Globe & Mail reports that while 30-50 percent of homes in South Korea and Japan have fiber broadband, only 18 percent of Americans and less than 2 percent of Canadians have access to the networks that routinely deliver 100Mbps affordable broadband without rationed broadband usage plans.

In fact, the biggest fiber projects underway in Canada are being built in unexpected places that run contrary to the conventional wisdom that suggest fiber installs only make sense in large, population-dense, urban areas.

Manitoba’s MTS plans to spend $125-million over the next five years to launch its fiber to the home service, FiON.  By the end of 2015, MTS expects to deploy fiber to about 120,000 homes in close to 20 Manitoba communities.  In Saskatchewan, SaskTel is investing $199 million in its network in 2011 and approximately $670 million in a seven-year Next Generation Broadband Access Program (2011 – 2017). This program will deploy Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) and upgrade the broadband network in the nine largest urban centers in the province – Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Weyburn, Estevan, Swift Current, Yorkton, North Battleford and Prince Albert.

“Saskatchewan continues to be a growing and dynamic place,” Minister responsible for SaskTel Bill Boyd said. “The deployment of FTTP will create the bandwidth capacity to allow SaskTel to deploy exciting new next generation technologies to better serve the people of Saskatchewan.”

But the largest fiber project of all will serve the unlikely provinces of Atlantic Canada, among the most economically challenged in the country.  Bell Aliant is targeting its FibreOP fiber to the home network to over 600,000 homes by the end of next year.  On that network, Bell Aliant plans to sell speeds up to 170/30Mbps to start.

In comparison, residents in larger provinces are making due with 3-10Mbps DSL service from Bell or Telus, or expensive usage-limited, speed-throttled cable broadband service from companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Videotron.

Bell Canada is trying to convince its customers it has the fiber optic network they want.  Its Fibe Internet service sure sounds like fiber, but the product fails truth-in-advertising because it isn’t an all-fiber-network at all. It’s similar to AT&T’s U-verse — relying on fiber to the neighborhood, using existing copper phone wires to finish the job.  Technically, that isn’t much different from today’s cable systems, which also use fiber to reach into individual neighborhoods.  Traditional coaxial cable handles the signal for the rest of the journey into subscriber homes.

A half-fiber network can do better than none at all.  In Ontario, Bell sells Fibe Internet packages at speeds up to 25Mbps, but even those speeds cannot compare to what true fiber networks can deliver.

Globe & Mail readers seemed to understand today’s broadband realities in the barely competitive broadband market. One reader’s take:

“The problem in Canada (and elsewhere) preventing wide scale deployment of FTTH isn’t the technology, nor the cost. It’s a lack of political vision and will, coupled with incumbent service providers doing whatever they can to hold on to a dysfunctional model that serves their interests at the expense of consumers.”

Another:

“The problem with incumbents is they only think in 2-3 year terms. If they can’t make their money back in that period of time, they’re not interested. Thinking 20, heck even 10 years ahead is not in their vocabulary.”

Canada’s Cellular Cartel: 3 Wireless Companies Control 94 Percent of the Market

Next time you wonder why you are paying substantially higher cell phone bills than your neighbors abroad, take note: just three cell phone companies control 94 percent of the wireless marketplace in Canada, with more than 23.5 million combined subscribers.  The four other significant carriers have a combined subscriber base of around 1.5 million, hardly worth noticing by the largest three:

Rogers Communications

The telecom giant Rogers controls the largest share of the Canadian wireless market with 9,127,000 subscribers as of the end of June.  Nearly 7.5 million of those customers are on two year contracts and pay an average bill of $70.07 per month.  Prepaid customers pay substantially less for their occasional-use phones: $16.14 a month.  Rogers adds more subscribers than it loses, picking up 591,000 new customers during the first quarter, while losing 456,000 current customers, winning a net gain of 135,000.

Data revenue is becoming increasingly important for Rogers, now constituting 35 percent of earnings for the company’s wireless division.

Bell

Coming in at second place is Bell Canada, with 7,283,000 customers.  Over 5.7 million are on contract, 1.6 million are using Bell prepaid phones.  Bell added just under 38,000 new customers last quarter, the smallest net add among the three largest providers.  The average contract customer pays Bell $63.18 a month; prepaid customers pay $16.88.

Telus Mobility

Telus, western Canada’s largest phone company, sells wireless service across the country and has become the third largest wireless provider with 5.8 million contract customers and 1.2 million prepaid clients.  Together, they pay an average of $58.88 a month.  Telus picked up 94,000 net additions last quarter, which is better than Bell but worse than Rogers.

Everyone Else

Among the rest, Saskatchewan’s phone company Sasktel had managed to reach 568,000 subscribers, mostly in the province, as of late March.  MTS Allstream Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Manitoba Telecom came in with 489,722 customers.  Videotron, Quebec’s biggest cable company, had 210,600 clients, mostly in Quebec.

Among the newest entrants, Wind Mobile, subject to considerable controversy for its foreign financial backing, may one day be a much larger player in Canada’s wireless marketplace, but not today.  It had just 271,000 customers as of March 31st.

Even fewer customers rely on some of Canada’s regional providers, which include companies like Thunder Bay Telephone, Lynx Mobility (co-owned by an aboriginal partner with a mission to serve rural Canada), Calgary-based AirTel, which is popular with oil/gas workers for its “push to talk” service, and Ice Wireless, which is the largest GSM carrier in northern Canada, reaching 70% of the population of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Canada’s largest three providers also own or control several “competitors” that mostly sell prepaid service.  Customers thinking they are escaping the big boys often really are not:

  • Fido is owned by Rogers;
  • Virgin Mobile Canada is owned by Bell;
  • Koodo Mobile is owned by Telus

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