Ken Ranger wants Toronto subway users to start speaking out – now – in support of better cellular service during rides.
The chief executive of BAI Communications Canada pointed out Monday that seven years after his company won the contract to install wireless hardware in TTC subway stations, only one company – Freedom Mobile – has signed on to make use of this cellular infrastructure.
Ranger and BAI are hoping, however, that a newly launched ad initiative that urges riders to sign a petition to press for connectivity from the country’s major carriers will change all that, thus enabling the hundreds of thousands who ride the subway system to use their phones.
Freedom Mobile signed on with BAI in 2015. Major Canadian carriers Telus, Bell and Rogers are not yet on board. BAI has a 20-year contract with the TTC, for which it paid $25 million.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ranger said: “We built a platform that can host any company with licensed spectrum. It’s time to ensure that the public knows that the option is there for coverage.”
The six-week, $200,000 ad campaign, which started Monday and is slated to appear in stations and trains and on social media, promotes a new website called iwantaccess.ca. TTC riders are asked to sign a petition, saying “Add your name if you believe everyone should have fair access to subway cellular service. Your voice is essential. This petition will be used to show growing support from the public and let the Big 3 Telcos know you want access.”
Currently, BAI said, there are no meaningful talks underway with major carriers.
TTC’s subway tunnels, for the most part, do not have cellular service. That is limited to the stations, the downtown U of the Yonge line and the extension to Vaughan. Freedom Mobile customers are the only ones who can access it in those locations. All of the stations have Wi-Fi (provided by BAI and available to everyone), but the trains do not.
Telus told The Globe last year that there are “no concrete plans” to add Toronto subway service. Bell and Rogers told The Globe that they like Montreal’s subway cellular infrastructure model which was built by Videotron and the big three carriers. Initially, a U.S. firm called Extenet from Chicago had the contract with Montreal’s STM, however Canada’s major carriers did not join in and Extenet eventually gave up the network.
“Toronto is the only major Canadian city without a connected underground for all,” BAI said. “More than two-thirds of TTC riders surveyed are unaware that connectivity is available on the subway in Toronto, and 71 per cent don’t realize that their mobile carrier isn’t allowing them to use it.”
To date, BAI’s subsidiary, called Transit Wireless, has signed all four major U.S. carriers to its network in the New York City subway.
Ranger told The Globe that BAI so far is satisfied with its performance on the TTC system, saying his firm is taking a “long-term view.”
With files from The Globe and Mail, iPhone in Canada