Rogers contentiously launches 5G on Toronto subway


The move leaves rival operators Bell and Telus’ customers without access to connectivity on the subway, with network access negotiations proving contentious

This week, Canadian mobile operator Rogers Communications has announced that it has begun offering customers 5G services on part of the Toronto subway system.

The new 5G network will initially be available on parts of both Line 1 and Line 2 as outlined here:

On Line 1: All stations and tunnels in the Downtown U; plus Spadina and Dupont stations.

On Line 2: Thirteen stations from Keele to Castle Frank; plus the tunnels between St. George and Yonge stations.

Extending the network to the entirety of the subway system, which spans 75 subway stations and nearly 80km of track, is expected to take around two years to complete.

Alongside offering greater speeds and coverage for customers, new network upgrades will also help to increase the availability and reliability of 911 service calls throughout the system.

“Toronto is a world-class city and TTC riders deserve a transit system with world-class cellular service,” said Tony Staffieri, President and CEO of Rogers Communications. “That’s why Rogers stepped up to do what’s right for Toronto transit riders. We’re working hard to modernize and expand the network so all riders can reliably access 911 and connect to 5G everywhere across the subway system, including underground. Today is an important milestone, and we’re just getting started.”

Back in April, Rogers announced that it would acquire BAI Communication’s Canadian operations, which held the exclusive rights to build the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)’s wireless network. Rogers said the acquisition would allow them to deploy a 5G network across the subway system, greatly improving service quality for customers and improving access to emergency services.

However, the deal was immediately controversial, with Rogers’ rivals Bell and Telus raising concerns that they would essentially be blocked from serving customers on TTC.

Despite Rogers’ attempts to assuage these fears, saying that they would work together with the other operators, Bell and Telus quickly urged the local authorities to mandate immediate access for all carriers on the new network.

Negotiations between the three companies regarding network access began quickly but made slow process. As a result, in July, Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne launched a consultation on how to resolve the situation, hoping to accelerate the process.

Now, Rogers is beginning to activate its network before this consultation has concluded, giving its customers access to the network while Bell and Telus customers will be forced to wait.

Rogers has consistently argued against suggestions that it should wait for negotiations with its fellow telcos to conclude before offering its services to customers on the subway, saying that to do so would cause lengthy and unnecessary delays and disruption for customers.

“Depriving customers of service in this manner would prioritize the interests of certain carriers over consumers,” Rogers said in its submission to the federal department. “It would also reward tactical self-serving manoeuvring by Bell and Telus who did not show any interest in providing wireless services in the TTC until Rogers stepped up to make the investments needed to modernise and expand the TTC wireless network.”

But Telus and Bell, on the other hand, argue that move is anticompetitive, potentially disincentivising Rogers from reaching a fair and equitable network access deal.

“Importantly, allowing Rogers to gain a head start in deploying wireless services would create an imbalanced landscape and diminish the incentive for it to negotiate and establish agreements with other licensees,” said Telus in a government filing.

“If Rogers is already operating with a competitive edge, it may be less motivated to engage in meaningful negotiations and reach mutually beneficial agreements with other licensees. This not only hampers healthy competition but also hinders the ability of TTC riders to access a diverse range of wireless services, thereby limiting consumer choice.”

What impact this network activation will ultimately have on negotiations remains to be seen, but it is sure to only worsen the bad blood between Canada’s mobile giants.

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