For those looking to get wireless service within the Toronto subway from Canada’s Big 3 wireless players, you’ll need to keep waiting, as it does not appear they will be partaking on the BAI Canada network, which won a bid process in 2012 for a 20-year exclusive.
The Globe and Mail’s telecom reporter, Christine Dobby, followed up with Rogers, Telus and Bell, asking why commuters still don’t have access within TTC subways. Only Bell Canada provided a detailed answer out of the Big 3.
According to Bell, the company wants an approach to wireless service in subways similar to the situation in Montreal, Quebec, where the Big 3 and Videotron teamed up to build wireless infrastructure themselves. The move came after the four carriers held out from Chicago-based Extenet’s network contract with Montreal’s STM, causing the former to give up the network.
Bell says they are “eager to build high-quality wireless infrastructure to serve customers on the Toronto subway, as we have everywhere else we offer mobile service, but we have been denied access to do so,” according to a spokesman speaking to The Globe.
However, Australia-owned BAI Canada, says they won the TTC public bidding process fairly in 2012, a $25 million deal over 20 years, to build and operate cellular and Wi-Fi networks along the subway.
Ken Ranger, chief executive officer of BAI Canada, told the publication, “It was a very public process, which Bell themselves bid on.” He added the company “would love” to have Bell and other incumbent carriers on their network.
Ranger compares the wireless network situation similar to that of shopping malls, where it wouldn’t make sense to have multiple networks built, but rather one to serve licensed carriers. He says he has “periodic” talks with the Big 3 but no deals have been made.
As for Rogers, the company echoed a previous statement to The Globe on the matter, noting they are always looking at opportunities to expand their network, while Telus flat out said: “we have no concrete plans to offer cellular service in the Toronto subway system.”
Currently, only Shaw’s Freedom Mobile offers wireless service on the TTC, as the sole licensed carrier on the BAI Canada network. A Freedom Mobile spokesperson said “we knew we had to participate,” when BAI Canada laid out the opportunity to join the network in 2015.
Other major world cities such as Hong Kong and New York have had their wireless networks within transit systems built by BAI.
In New York, BAI sister company, Transit Wireless, has signed on all four major U.S. carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) to their network. BAI so far only has one in Toronto—and that’s Freedom Mobile.
The debate over wireless access in the TTC subway system has been going on since 2013, when the National Post looked into the issue. At the time, BAI Canada’s then-CEO, Brian Jacks, said “The [big three carriers], the guys that were here before, they would love nothing more than to build it themselves,” and “But I’m not sure they’ve accepted the fact that we’ve actually won the license here.”
Do you want wireless connectivity along the TTC subway from the Big 3?