MONTREAL — BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) will launch its new, advanced wireless network on Wednesday, levelling the playing field on network capabilities between Bell, Telus (TSX:T) and Rogers (TSX:RCI.B).
Bell’s launch will come a day before Telus (TSX:T) launches its new network, making each of the two major cellphone players able to carry Apple’s sought-after iPhone.
The only Canadian carrier that has been able to offer Apple’s touchscreen smartphone until now has been their rival Rogers, (TSX:RCI.B), a cable, wireless and Internet company.
CEO George Cope called the launch of Bell’s new network the most significant technology announcement for the company in 25 years.
“Wireless is still without a doubt the fastest growing area of telecom,” Cope told a luncheon speech, adding it will remain so for the next 10 years.
Bell and Telus will join Rogers in having HSPA networks (High Speed Packet Access), allowing faster Internet downloads of music, video and software applications.
Cope said after his speech that Bell supports a recent CRTC decision that ruled new cellphone company Globalive didn’t meet Canadian ownership and control requirements.
“It’s just absolutely clear that we all have to live under the same rules,” he said.
Cope noted there are other new cellphone players to contend with, such as Quebecor’s Videotron (TSX:QBR.B) and competitors DAVE Wireless and Public Mobile, all expected to be up and running in the coming months.
“No one would be mistaken that there’s not new competition coming to the Canadian wireless industry,” Cope said.
With Toronto-based Globalive sidelined, analysts say there will still be price cutting, but maybe not as much as consumers would like.
Analyst Carmi Levy said Rogers, Bell and Telus will be able to hold the line on pricing for as long as they can.
“Prices will come down over time but probably not as fast as Canadians would like because of that,” Levy said, referring to the CRTC decision on Globalive.
“You still only have three major, national players,” said senior vice-president of strategic consulting for Toronto’s AR Communications Inc.
“The competitive landscape isn’t any different today than it was last week.”
Analyst Duncan Stewart said prices usually come down in the 12 months before new players get into the cellphone market and in the year they are up and running.
Prices will likely come down about 10 per cent in that two-year period, said Stewart, director of research and analysis at DSAM consulting in Toronto.
“They’ve already come down a bit but not as fast as most consumers would like,” he said.
After that, there is price stability and then one of the new players usually cut prices, other competitors follow suit and eventually someone gets bought out or folds, Stewart said.
“Then prices go back up. It’s about a five-year cycle.”