Rogers’s VoIP vision combines cellular, cable networks

Rogers Communications Inc. Wednesday confirmed a Canada Day launch for its voice over IP service and tentatively announced plans to offer phone service that could switch back and forth between home and cellular service, depending on the user’s


The VoIP service will be called Rogers Home Phone and run over the company’s cable service that also provides homes with television and high-speed connectivity. Basic pricing will start at $29.95 a month and advance to $41.95 depending on the number of features the subscriber wants. Cheaper pricing is available by bundling Home Phone with Rogers other service offerings. Long distance is an additional charge and will follow the same pricing model as Sprint Canada.

Sprint Canada will become part of Rogers starting July 1, following court approval. Rogers shareholders approved the acquisition Wednesday. The company first announced intent to acquire Call-Net Enterprises, which operates the Sprint subsidiary in Canada, on May 11. Closing the deal will bring approximately 600,000 Sprint customers into the Rogers fold and the Sprint Canada name will eventually be phased out in favour of the Rogers brand.

As previously announced, the initial Rogers Home Phone offering will start in the Toronto area. The service will be rolled out to Rogers cable subscribers in other areas over the next few months.

According to Rogers Cable Inc. president Edward Rogers, users will be able to keep their existing phone numbers if they make the switch to Phone Home. They will also have access to e-911 emergency services, directory assistance, voicemail, call display, call waiting and other services which will be available shortly after launch.

Rogers’s pricing for the service is “attractive,” said Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group in Montreal, “but it doesn’t blow away the business proposition” that other VoIP providers like Babytel and Vonage are currently offering.

The latter, which started offering VoIP service in Canada just over a year ago, has a 500-minute plan starting at $19.99 and unlimited local calling with 500 minutes of long distance service for $34.99.

“I think there was more concern yesterday than there was today,” said Grant, who added that Bell Canada is probably among the list of competitors breathing more easily today. Bell Canada was one of the providers displeased with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) decision not to regulate VoIP any differently than traditional phone service. The CRTC ruling of May 12 ultimately favours Rogers, since its new phone service will not be guided by the same regulations that govern incumbent telephone companies like Bell and Telus.

A year from now Rogers may introduce a service that would span Home Phone service as well as its existing cell phone offerings. CEO Ted Rogers said he’s aiming for a Canada Day 2006 launch for “phones that will work outside the house on wireless and inside the house on Rogers Home Phone.”

The proposed device would make the switch from cell phone to land line when it enters the home by connecting to Rogers cable network via a Bluetooth connection. The groundwork has begun, said Ted Rogers, and the company is already working with European providers like British Telecom on the details.

“The concept is very simple: we’re moving to a time, in our view, where you can get any of these products at any time in any place you choose,” said Ted Rogers. “That has implications for cable and for phones.”

He added that Rogers would also make the service available to customers that subscribe to cell plans from other providers, much the same as the interoperability agreements that already exist for short message service (SMS) and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Rogers’s plan to introduce the service in a year is a feasible timeline, said Grant, but there are concerns over billing, security and infrastructure.

“We have the technology,” he said. “It’s mostly a matter of, when does the cell phone network give up and when does the Bluetooth network kick in? That’s a function of signal strength. How do you do the affirmation that the Bluetooth is actually connecting to your phone instead of somebody else’s?”

Similar concerns were raised when wireless networks were introduced to the home market: a user with the right equipment could piggyback an Internet connection off the network from outside the home without the rightful owner even knowing – a practice known as war-driving.

Ted Rogers said he plans to step down as CEO of Rogers Communications when his contract expires in June 2008. He will remain active with the company, he said, possibly by creating a new role the way Bill Gates did when he stepped down as CEO and assumed the title Chief Software Architect. Rogers jokingingly refered to himself as “Chief Futurist.”

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