Technology & Science

Bell boosts internet speeds

Bell Canada is boosting internet speeds in Ontario and Quebec by rolling out new fibre infrastructure, bringing Canada in line with what has been happening in other parts of the world for years.

Bell Canada is boosting internet speeds in Ontario and Quebec by rolling out new fibre infrastructure, bringing Canada in line with what has been happening in other parts of the world for years.

The Montreal-based company announced on Thursday that it will deploy so-called fibre-to-the-home connections in Quebec City and new housing developments in Ontario and Quebec, allowing for download speeds of 100 megabits per second and uploads of 20 megabits. Most Bell customers currently have download speeds around seven megabits.

Bell said Quebec City was chosen for the rollout because its internet infrastructure is largely above ground and hanging from poles, rather than buried underground. This will make it cheaper and easier to upgrade, Bell said, although it did not specify a cost. The rollout will take place over the next three years.

"Investment in broadband networks and services is a core strategic imperative at Bell," said chief executive George Cope in a statement. "We're actively building the communications platforms that support the growth of competitive new internet, video and other digital services now and into the future."

Bell pressured by rivals

Bell, Canada's largest internet provider with two million subscribers, is under considerable competitive pressure in Quebec from cable provider Videotron, which began offering download speeds of 50 megabits two years ago. Videotron has the potential to offer 100-megabit speeds but has not yet done so.

Bell did not announce pricing on the services, but Videotron charges about $80 a month for its 50-megabit service.

Bell also said it was boosting the download speeds it offers in Montreal and Toronto to 25 megabits, with a seven-megabit upload, through its new "Fibe" service. The top speed costs about $68 a month. The company expects to be able to offer the new speeds to 1.8 million homes by next month, with plans to expand that to 3.6 million by the end of the year.

In Ontario, Bell is also feeling pressure from rival Rogers, which has been offering 50-megabit download speeds since the summer. Rogers' service costs $100 a month.

Several international broadband comparisons have painted Canada in a bad light. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has said that Canada is well behind the rest of the developed world in rolling out next-generation super-fast broadband services.

In the United States, for example, phone giant Verizon launched its fibre-internet Fios service — with download speeds up to 50 megabits, plus phone and television — in 2005. Ultra-fast fibre connections are also common in other leading OECD countries, such as Japan.

A report last fall from Harvard University studied broadband speeds, adoption, prices and availability in 30 developed countries and found Canada ranked poorly over all, at 22nd. Although a number of Canadian cable companies were offering super-fast services at the time, the high prices at which they were being sold pulled Canada down in the rankings.

"Because our analysis includes important measures on which Canada has had weaker outcomes — prices, speeds and 3G mobile broadband penetration — in our analysis it shows up as quite a weak performer, overall," the study said.

Novus boosts speed too

Vancouver-based internet provider Novus Entertainment also announced on Thursday it was boosting speeds, up to a whopping 200 megabits. The company referenced the Harvard study in its announcement

"We noted a recent survey by Harvard University which found that Canadians’ access to superior broadband performance and infrastructure ranked poorly among developed countries," said Novus co-president Donna Robertson in a statement. "While these results are disappointing, this provided Novus with the opportunity to not only take this challenge head on and provide customers with superior internet speeds, but to also set us apart from the competition."

Novus said its new 200-megabit service will cost $280 a month, which it says is the lowest cost-per-megabit in Canada.

Bell also announced it will roll out Internet Protocol Television, or IPTV, in Toronto and Montreal in 2010. IPTV is a television service offered over an internet connection that allows for interactive and two-way communications such as video on demand and video calling.

Bell, which already has a successful satellite TV business, is the last major phone company in Canada to roll out IPTV. SaskTel and Manitoba Telecom have been offering the service for years and are considered world leaders in the technology. Telus has also been offering the service for several years.