A major challenge facing Canada’s “new” mobile companies is this: how can they extend network coverage across Canada to increase the utility of their product offerings? One way they address the challenge involves entering roaming agreements with incumbent carriers. As Wind Mobile is finding out, Rogers Communications is willing to both do the least possible to enable roaming and fight at the CRTC to maintain this minimal standard.
Specifically, from The Telecom Blog we find that
…Wind Mobile complained again to the CRTC stating that Rogers continues to discriminate against its roaming customers. Though RIM managed to muster support from the Consumer Association of Canada, the CRTC has ruled again in favor of Rogers. The upstart carrier claims that currently there’s no way for Wind subscribers to continue a live call when they hop onto Rogers network. The call is dropped and the subscribers are forced to redial.
Though Wind has been lobbying hard to get seamless roaming onto the Rogers network, the CRTC declined the request stating that “in view of its determination that RCP had not granted itself a preference, it would be inappropriate to deal with the issue of mandating seamless call transition.”
Needless to say, these are the actions of an incumbent doing what it can to limit the appeal of competitors’ products. The reason that Rogers wasn’t found to have granted itself a preference was because Rogers hadn’t rejigged their network in response to the roaming agreement: Rogers simply made the decision not to make technical improvements that would enable seamless live call transitions.
Much of the issue around transitions, and other telecom-related battles between incumbents and competitors in Canada, stem from the CRTC’s basic position that the Canadian telecommunications market should be directed by facilities-based competition. In other words, the position is (generally stated!) that competitors are recognized as temporarily needing access to incumbent networks when they first incorporate, but that the same competitors should build out their own infrastructure over time.
This CRTC’s preferred mode of competition is incredibly expensive and is arguably redundant; structural separation is postulated as one means of addressing the issue, as are spectrum sharing, and improved infrastructure sharing agreements that are driven by federal institutions’ fiats. Regardless of the particular solution you favour - if you see a problem as existing, in the first place! - something should be done to better enable new competitors in Canada. The CRTC theoretically attempts to promote market competition so that services are less costly for Canadians while simultaneously ensuring that offered services are of high quality and are efficient. Where something so basic as call transitions isn’t addressed, one has to wonder whether some federal institution shouldn’t be a lot more involved than they are in enabling competition in Canada’s mobile marketplace.
Rogers’ SpeedBoost system temporarily increases the rate that data is transmitted to their customers in the earliest moments of downloading an item. This system is meant to get ‘bursty’ traffic to end-users faster that would otherwise occur, as well as initially buffer streaming video so that customers don’t suffer delays. It was initially couched as a free ‘extra’ but it seems like Rogers customers now get to pay for these ‘enhancements’:
… a Rogers representative insists that users are lucky that the hikes weren’t worse, given Rogers had to “absorb much of these costs.” The company insists the improvements include some additional TV channels and SpeedBoost, a technology that delivers a little extra bandwidth at the beginning of a download (Comcast users in the States know it as PowerBoost):
$2/customer is a hefty increase when all customers are aggregated. While DSL Reports suggests that this move is drive by a lack of competition in Rogers’ primary markets I think that this is only one element of the story. A key problem facing Canadian ISPs is the high market saturation in wireline Internet services; quite simply, it can be challenging to attract new customers away from their current providers to raise quarterly revenues. One solution is to increase prices in minuscule ways, such that you deliver increased “value” to shareholders while targeting increases just below consumers’ pain (and flight) points.
This doesn’t make Rogers’ practices any less horrible for their customers, but I really think that focusing exclusively on competition - and avoiding a reflection on market saturation - is missing a key part of the broader story.
St. Arnand says:
They tried and failed with UBB. Now they are at it again with “speed boost” technologies. The two technologies at question are Verizon’s “Turbo” service and Roger’s “SpeedBoost”. There are very few technical details, but it appears in the former case that users will be able to purchase additional instantaneous bandwidth to the detriment of other users on the same shared service. Whether this will make a difference to actual throughput is another matter because the slow video may be due to server problems and not network congestion. And if you are in elevator with very poor connectivity, you will unlikely get any faster download speed, no matter how many times you press the turbo button. But will Verizon give you a credit if you don’t get the advertised speed boost? I doubt it. Similarly the Rogers’ service, while still free, seems to imply faster speeds if they detect you are streaming a video, particularly from their own on-line service. Will users who are not streaming video, but using other real time applications get the same benefit such as VoIP or Telepresence? I doubt it.
I agree with his thrust that this kind of practice creates undue preference for certain kinds of content distribution over others. I would just note that (based on some people I’ve spoken to about Rogers’ practices) it seems like Rogers’ system temporarily ‘upgrades’ a person’s throughput capacity to try and get ‘bursty’ traffic to the end-user quickly, and to create a buffer for streaming media. Thus, if you subscribe to a 10 mbps service then you would temporarily go to a 15 mbps connection, and after those few seconds pass by you revert back to your 10 mbps speeds.