18 September 2005

So They Finally Listened to Me (Sort of)

Friday's announcement that Bell Canada and Rogers Communications - Eastern Canada's two major telecommunications providers - have teamed up to provide wireless broadband access across the country is a step in the right direction. They will be 50:50 partners in a venture called Inukshuk Internet Inc. Based on their mutual existing infrastructure,
The network will cover more than 40 cities as well as 50 rural and remote communities, some of which are still waiting for high-speed Internet access. There are two target audiences: underserved rural communities and people who want wireless high-speed Internet access beyond their homes. In addition to high-speed Internet access, Bell and Rogers could offer other voice, video and data applications over the network.

This is monumental for several reasons. First, Bell and Rogers are fierce rivals, viewing each other as direct competitors for service, coming into the home through either the phone line or the cable. Each one had aspirations to "own the customer," a rather perjorative view of their clientelle, given the colloquial meaning of "own" among the technologically... ahem... leet. For the longest time, each one viewed themselves merely as common carrier channels for the same content, and thus viewed the other as a bitter enemy. If ever there was an example of convergence, these two exemplified it, as the phone company and the cable company began to converge on each other with services and offerings: Satellite:Cable, Wireless:Wireless, Broadband:Broadband, Voice:VoIP.

As with many reversals in the contemporary era, the customers are becoming less concerned with the packaging, and more concerned about the products and services, and with the identities that they embody. In music, people are less interested in the plaastic-covered aluminum disks, favouring instead a focus on the music or video itself. In communications, people are less concerned with the specifics of how a signal gets to its final destination (usually a screen of some shape or size) and more about the quality, reliability, coverage and speed of that signal, in addition, of course, to what is coming across that signal, and what it says about them.

Here, Bell and Rogers finally figured it out. They are in very different businesses, and thus, not direct competitors in the identity market at all. They may express it somewhat differently: "We're going to build a common plumbing system, and we're going to fight like mad to sell our own version of the water," said David Robinson, vice-president of business implementation at Rogers. But this is the essence of the "what business are you REALLY in?" argument that I have been talking about for some time now. Good on them!
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Harold Jarche said...

Whatever happened to Microcell's Inukshuk.ca? Is this the same thing? When Industry Canada gave Inukshuk the original license for wireless broadband a few years back, they were supposed to put a certain percentage into learning-related programs and research. Do Bell-Rogers have the same requirement?

Mark Federman said...

This is the same Inukshuk.ca. I have no idea about the original license requirements. If I had to guess, they will negotiate their way around it with the CRTC in favour of providing wireless broadband access in rural Canada where there is no broadband today.