Bell extends PCS network to Western Canada

While Telus makes inroads in the east, Bell Canada is going west.

Bell Canada, along with Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel Networks, signed a $180 million agreement to extend Bell Mobility’s digital PCS network into Alberta and British Columbia.

Nortel will install CDMA 1XRTT wireless infrastructure and equipment for Montreal-based Bell in the two Western provinces, affording Western Canadians in early 2002 the services currently available to Bell Mobility customers in Ontario and Quebec.

Operating in the 1900 MHz bands, the network will support 3G applications like Bell’s Mobile Browser and Digital DATA to Go. The latter provides wireless access to the Internet, e-mail, m-commerce and corporate databases.

“It allows you to offer the most robust services to customers,” Paul Healey, Western region president for Bell Mobility, said of the upcoming network.

Bell currently relies on partnering agreements with to provide coverage in B.C. and Alberta.

Unlike traditional telecommunications deals, where one provider is responsible for the radio base stations and another handles the core network switching equipment, Nortel is on both ends of Bell’s Western foray.

“Because we’re not only able to provide access products but also the core operating product, it helps reduce the overall operating cost,” said Mark Morell, director of wireless solutions for Nortel.

Nortel would not predict actual savings and Healey offered only confidence in Nortel when asked about potential cost-reductions.

Bell’s move works to counter Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus’s concerted push into Eastern Canada, a region Bell has traditionally dominated.

In August of last year, Telus announced its intention to acquire wireless outfit Clearnet Communications Inc. (the deal was finally completed in early 2001), and more recently acquire Williams Communications Canada Inc. in Toronto e-solutions integrator Dedaelian in part because of their Ontario and Quebec customer bases.

Bell’s parent company, BCE Inc. has spent the past year and-a-half building a multimedia powerhouse that includes the CTV television network, The Globe and Mail newspaper and the Bell ExpressVu Satellite service. Healey said extending the digital PCS network to B.C. and Alberta is indicative of an overall corporate goal.

“Part of BCE’s strategy is to be the industry leader in communications,” Healey said. “Part of that is providing seamless coverage coast to date.”

IDC Canada analyst Dan McLean said Bell’s telecom aspirations stretch even father than Canada’s coasts.

“Bell would ultimately like to go across the ocean and move down south,” he said. “But they have to become a truly national player before they do that.”

McLean said the announcement is good news for the beleaguered telecommunications sector, which has suffered from a dearth of new infrastructure demand over the past 18 months.

“Here’s a carrier purchasing equipment,” McLean said. “These deals used to be common. Now, anytime a carrier improves its infrastructure it’s seen as a really good sign.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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