The future is wireless, Rogers tells telecom summit

The sixth annual Canadian Telecom Summit kicked off on Monday with Rogers Communications stressing that the future of the industry would be all about wireless.

The sixth annual Canadian Telecom Summit kicked off on Monday with Rogers Communications stressing that the future of the industry would be all about wireless.

"There is no doubt in my mind," said Nadir Mohamed, president and chief operating officer of Rogers Communications Inc., "that what we've seen in the wired internet world, in terms of market share and penetration, will in fact happen in the wireless world."

Mohamed said the arrival of the iPhone and the growing popularity of Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry, demonstrates that wireless web usage is about to explode.

BlackBerry subscribers make up only five per cent of mobile customers, meaning there is lots of room for the mobile data market to grow, he said.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for greater wireless data penetration," he told about 500 conference attendees.

While he did not say what the company's rate plans will be for the iPhone, which it announced last week, Mohamed hinted that data rates will come down when the device launches on July 11 in order to address larger, mainstream market.

"When you look back at pricing … it always evolves to meet and support new applications," he said. "Web browsing is happening. Our pricing will change to embrace that fact."

On the wired side, Mohamed said internet access will continue to move toward usage-based billing, where customers are charged for how much they download — much the way the wireless world works.

Rogers needs to monetize

"Usage-based billing is a reality for wired and wireless network," he said. "The capacity is exploding, and we need to be able to monetize some of that."

Mohamed also suggested that usage-based billing might be the best way to avoid coming into conflict with so-called "net neutrality" complaints.

Rogers and Bell Canada Inc. are currently at the centre of a heated debate over how much control service providers should have over what customers use the internet for. Both companies are limiting the speeds of peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent, prompting an inquiry from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The three-day summit — the Stanley Cup finals of the telecommunications industry — this year comes at an active in Canada. Besides the probe into internet access, which the CRTC is expected to rule on by September, the industry is also in the midst of the government's wireless spectrum auction, which is expected to result in new cellphone carriers.

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein is scheduled to deliver a keynote address on Tuesday, while Robert Dépatie, president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based Videotron — a company that is positioned to become one of those new cellphone carriers when the auction concludes - is giving a speech on Wednesday. The auction is slowing down and could possibly end before Dépatie's speech.

Net neutrality on  agenda

Net neutrality will also be at the forefront with a panel discussion on Wednesday. The panel will include Rogers' chief strategy officer Mike Lee as well as Dave Caputo, CEO of Sandvine, a company that makes network-management technology for internet service providers.

Tuesday will be highlighted by the annual "regulatory blockbuster" session, the only panel this year that will pit representatives of different carriers against each other — a situation that often results in fireworks. During a panel on wireless last year, for example, Quebecor executive vice-president Luc Lavoie took a shot at the quality of Bell Canada's cellphone service:

"If you were half as good at running a company as you were at lobbying, maybe you'd have a better network," he said.

This year's panel will joined by Mirko Bibic, Ken Engelhart, Janet Yale and Chris Peirce, chief regulatory officers for Bell, Rogers, Telus Corp. and MTS Allstream Inc. respectively. Also on the panel will be John Lawford, counsel from the Public Interest Advocacy Council.

Other notable speakers include Nortel CEO Mike Zafirovski and Competition Commissioner Sheridan Scott.