By Sammy Hudes in Toronto
Rogers Communications Inc. has rolled out its high-speed 5G wireless service to its own customers in core parts of Toronto’s downtown subway network, as it continues to feud with the other major carriers over access for all transit riders.
The Toronto-based telecommunications company said it has also upgraded the cellular network to provide all subway riders with more reliable access to 911 service in the same areas.
Rogers chief executive Tony Staffieri called the launch an important milestone.
“We’re working hard to modernize and expand the network so all riders can reliably access 911 and connect to 5G everywhere across the subway system, including underground,” he said in a written statement.
As of Wednesday, Rogers says its customers can connect to its 5G network while in the Line 1 stations and tunnels in the so-called Downtown U from Union Station north to St. George and Bloor-Yonge, plus Spadina and Dupont stations. The area encompasses all of the subway stops in the city’s downtown core.
Users will also be able to access the 5G network in 13 stations on Line 2, along Bloor Street from Keele to Castle Frank, plus the tunnels between St. George and Yonge stations.
Rogers in April bought the Canadian operations of BAI Communications, which had owned the rights to provide wireless service on the Toronto subway.
It has announced plans to upgrade the existing infrastructure, which already includes cellular capability at most downtown subway stations, and build 5G capability for the entire network of stations and tunnels — a process it expects to take two years.
The company has pledged to work with its rivals, which include Bell and Telus, and make an upgraded system accessible for other carriers to use, but its rivals have raised concerns with the company’s plans.
The federal government launched a consultation process last month in a bid to speed up negotiations among the major carriers.
In a filing to Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada earlier this month, Rogers opposed an option the department is considering that would prevent it from giving its customers first access to the upgraded wireless network.
It said it preferred the matter be decided through commercial negotiations.
Rogers has vowed to make the upgraded system accessible for other mobile carriers to provide wireless coverage to their customers. That includes honouring BAI’s previous contract with Freedom Mobile, now owned by Quebecor Inc., the lone carrier whose customers already have access to the network.
Bell and Telus both have advocated for a joint build of the subway’s 5G network using a consortium model similar to that of Montreal’s Metro system, rather than a pay-for-access approach. Rogers has not publicly committed to either model.
In their own submissions to Ottawa, Bell and Telus urged the government to prevent Rogers from providing first access to its customers on the TTC. Those companies said Rogers should be made to wait until it is technically feasible for all riders to use the mobile network.
Bell spokeswoman Ellen Murphy said Rogers “clearly continues to seek to advantage itself at the expense of Toronto residents and is showing brazen disregard for the ongoing consultation led by Minister Champagne.”
“Rogers’ decision also goes against the recommendation of many community groups like the Women Abuse Council of Toronto, CodeRed TO, Toronto YWCA and Toronto Police Service, all of whom advocate that wireless connectivity on the TTC is a public safety issue and needs to be available to everyone as soon as possible, regardless of carrier,” said Murphy in a statement.
TTC spokesman Stuart Green said the decision of when to launch cellular service on the subway network was entirely up to Rogers.
“Outside an edict to the contrary, we cannot and would not stop them. There’s nothing we’re aware of that prevents this launch,” he said in an email.
TTC CEO Rick Leary called the move “a significant milestone in Rogers’ commitment to bringing modern, high-speed connectivity to the TTC subway system.”
“TTC and Rogers staff worked hard to make this happen quickly and I look forward to the full build out being completed with all wireless carriers signing on to the network,” Leary said in a statement.
Rogers had said in its submission to Ottawa that forcing the company to hold off on its launch until all riders could use the upgraded cellular network “could delay access to wireless services in the TTC by consumers (including customers of Rogers and any other licensee motivated to negotiate commercial terms in good faith), as well as access to improved 911 availability for all riders.”
It noted there are “legitimate technical constraints associated with onboarding other carriers” that would leave its rivals at least four weeks behind on installing and testing their equipment on the TTC.
Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of the TTC Riders advocacy group, said she doesn’t buy Rogers’ argument.
“It’s hard to take those comments at face value when they have such a clear financial interest in offering service to their customers first,” she said.
“It’s not fair for some people to not have access to cell service. It’s a safety issue. It’s an accessibility issue. What’s important now is that everyone gets access to the network, no matter who their provider is.”
Rogers and Telus did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2023.
Banner image via The Canadian Press