Rogers, TELUS and Bell Seen as Preventing Cell Service in TTC Subways

The National Post reports wireless incumbents Rogers, TELUS and Bell are seen as the key to bringing cellular service to underground Toronto Transit Commission subways stations, but currently no talks are in place between BAI Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Broadcast Australia and the telcos.

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According to Brian Jacks, the chief executive officer of BAI Canada, the company has until December 5 to bring carriers on board. If unsuccessful they will be granted another year’s extension and possibly have to look into transferring their contract to another party. Jacks has this to say:

“The [big three carriers], the guys that were here before, they would love nothing more than to build it themselves,”

“But I’m not sure they’ve accepted the fact that we’ve actually won the license here.”

BAI Canada won the bid in December 2009 to provide a wireless network for 61 existing and planned tunnels and station platforms, with a $25.5 million bid, well above the lower $5.5 million offer from Bell Mobility. The Australian company has committed to offering Wi-Fi to two pilot stations at St. George and Bloor-Yonge by year’s end, with more to come in following years leading to a 2017 completion date system wide.

BAI, according to TTC spokesman Brad Ross, is a “significant” player, having previously deployed similar setups in other transit systems worldwide, such as in New York City via their sister company Transit Wireless.

As for cellphone voice and data coverage, the premise is BAI would install and manage underground infrastructure, with the Big Three paying for access, which appears to be the issue at stake. Jacks explains how it would all work:

“[It’s] so efficient for the TTC. You only have one organization that has to have access to equipment and the network. You have one organization that’s responsible for wireless services,”

“They have their equipment at a base station hotel, they’re able to plug in, and they’re able to work with us to optimize their network for the TTC’s subway system.”

However, it doesn’t appear incumbents are ready to participate in this project, as seen in their responses to the Post:

“Rogers is not in discussions with BAI at this time,” a spokesperson said in response to a list of emailed questions.

“We aren’t participating in this project,” a Telus spokesperson noted.

As for Bell: “We are not working with any third parties on TTC coverage.”

Despite incumbents lacking interest in the project, newer wireless startups Public Mobile and WIND Mobile expressed interest and are in early talks with BAI.

A similar plan by a foreign company to manage underground wireless services recently failed in Montreal, as Chicago’s Extenet was also unable to bring incumbents and Videotron on board after two years of trying. Once Extenet’s plan failed, Rogers, TELUS, Bell and Videotron suddenly formed their own group, and negotiated with the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) to implement cellular service for 68 metro stations, set for 2014.

Do you want cellular service within TTC subways and stations?