Getting to the Entire Rogers Data Plan Picture in Canada

It’s not just the iPhone that is challenging Rogers data plans. (And how Canadians can get "almost" the "authorized" iPhone user experience before Christmas)

If you’re not Canadian this post may not interest you; on the other hand if you want a study in monopoly microeconomics associated with wireless services, it may. Or, if you want to know more about some recently deployable wireless technology, it may. But Canadian media is only getting part of the story out here due to iPhone hype; it is important to see the bigger picture. Rogers is not only the sole Canadian carrier gateway to Time’s Invention of the Year; it is also the sole carrier gateway for what has to be Canada’s most prominent technology invention, the Blackberry 8320 Curve and 8820 with GSM/EDGE, WiFi and UMA/GAN support. Neither is, at the time of writing, available in Canada through "authorized" channels.

About three weeks ago I buried in a post a story about Rogers Great Canadian Revenue Sustenance Dilemma. (Some day I’ll learn not to put too much into a single post!) In Canada Rogers is the only GSM carrier and there is more than the forthcoming iPhone launch that is grinding on their agenda re data plan offerings as mentioned in the post. It is the combination of:

  • iPhone and Apple’s desire to have an unlimited data plan (even O2 backed off for the UK launch occurring this coming Friday).

Interestingly, given the public’s antipathy to, and loathing of, less-than-transparent mobile data tariffs, O2 has decided to do away with the 200 Mbit/s a month ceiling that it was to impose on iPhone users. Earlier, the carrier was advertising "unlimited" data services and there was some consternation, not to say anger, when it transpired that, in fact, data usage on the iPhone was to be "capped" at 200Mbit/s.

  • potentially launching a WiFi-enabled Blackberry (8320 and/or 8820) also brings up the question of whether Rogers would provide UMA/GAN support with its implications for wireless data plan usage. Having experienced an evaluation 8820 for the past five weeks, I can only confirm that having WiFi does significantly reduce my use of my Rogers data plan yet significantly increases my "Internet" use of the Blackberry. Let me state it again: with the 8820 if I can have WiFi access (at home, at an office, in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, at Starbucks, in hotel rooms) then I don’t use the EDGE or HSDPA data plan. It changes how you think about accessing data via the Blackberry. But UMA/GAN employs WiFi not only for data but also for voice. UMA/GAN for 8×20’s has been implemented by T-Mobile USA’s Hotspot @ Home service and Orange in Europe. More discussion on this topic here.
  • Rogers is a member of the Canadian Hotspot Network, providing WiFi access in Starbucks and other Canadian coffee chains, airports (including Toronto’s Pearson), Best Western hotels and a wide range of other public locations. Certainly UMA/GAN presents a significant revenue generation opportunity for this aspect of their wireless business.
  • We all seem to know that forthcoming iPhones will support 3G wireless; however, will they also support UMA/GAN? Note that, while selling the Blackberry 8820, AT&T, U.S. carrier for the iPhone, is not supporting UMA/GAN.
  • Jim Balsille, Co-CEO of RIM, Canada’s most capitalized public company, in his quarterly analyst press call last month, called on carriers for lower data plan prices to accelerate smartphone sales in general. Somehow the math of 1,000 users at $60 per month for 25MB vs 25,000 users at $60 per month for an unlimited data plan still needs to be worked out at Rogers. Especially when UMA/GAN has the potential to move a significant portion of the capital investment for access points (cellular towers vs home/office-based WiFi access hardware) from the carrier to the user.
  • Bell Mobility’s current "unlimited" data plan offering over EVDO. But what does "unlimited" mean? Bell (and Telus) will not in the next few years be able to offer UMA/GAN; its seamless transition between GSM and WiFi for voice only works on GSM networks.

How distorted is Rogers current data plan offerings? Yesterday’s Globe and Mail Report on Business told the story here. Certainly their data plan offerings contributed to Rogers record earnings report last week. But, Catherine and Tony, the data plan picture from the Rogers viewpoint is bigger than simply the iPhone. It’s important to understand both the impact and the current availability of UMA/GAN.

From the Rogers Wireless overview on their website:

Pricing

Rogers Wireless price plans offer the best value in quality and service for wireless voice and data customers. Rogers Wireless customers can easily find a price plan to meet their wireless communication needs. Each plan offers specific benefits to Rogers Wireless customers, based on their market and usage patterns.

Ted,.your fellow Canadians are all looking forward to Rogers’ providing not simply the best value in quality and service for wireless voice and data customers but with pricing and infrastructure that compares favourably with pricing to, and infrastructure for, wireless customers in the U.S. and Europe. They want price plans that meet not only their communications needs but also their pocketbook needs. Rogers is given wireless spectrum by the CRTC as a public trust; don’t betray that trust to your fellow Canadians. And, in the process, you’ll even be helping accelerate sales of Canadian technology that has become one of Canada’s most successful business stories ever.

Want an "authorized" iPhone user experience in Canada prior to Christmas? Buy an iPod Touch (= iPhone – "phone") and find a WiFi access point because the iPhone launch in Canada will only occur when there is also a French version available early in the new year. (And it’s Apple, not Rogers, that is driving that agenda.) Apparently we can expect near concurrent launches in France and Canada.

Finally, to take issue with one of Time’s statements: "The iPhone gets applications like Google Maps out onto the street, where we really need them." The Blackberry 8820, with its built-in GPS, not only gets Google Maps out onto the street, it shows you what street you are on … in fact, is shows me where I am within my home. Scary! (iPhone does not have GPS.) Now if they would stop those satellites from moving so that the location does not "jiggle"!

Back to making those Skype-assisted conversations from my 8820….

Full disclosure: I am a Rogers VIP customer.

Another post on this and related issues: Jon Arnold Our Dollar May Be Stronger But Wireless is no Bargain. I made a presentation at the VON Panel chaired by Jon and referenced in his post.

Tags: Rogers, iPhone, Blackberry, Blackberry 8820, Blackberry 8320, UMA/GAN, Apple, O2, Canadian Hotspot Network, RIM, Research in Motion, Bell Mobility, iPod Touch, Google Maps

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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