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The Microcell Purchase
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Now that Rogers' has fully acquired Microcell (early November 2004), many Fido and Rogers customers are wondering what this will mean to both their service plans and to competition in Canada. This article will discuss some of the common questions that people have been asking.

Note: For this article I refer to the "Fido" network for clarity. The correct term should be the "Microcell Connexions" network, of which Fido offered services on, as part of "Microcell Solutions".

Network Equipment

Both Rogers and Fido customers will likely notice that their phones may now jump between the two GSM networks (Display might say CAN72, Rogers, Fido, MCELL, etc) since Rogers is currently working on integrating the networks across Canada on a city-by-city basis.

For those who remember the Telus acquisition of Clearnet in 2000, initially Telus operated two distinct CDMA networks. Within a year of the acquisition, all Clearnet customers where offered free firmware upgrades of their handsets or new handsets for use on Telus' existing network in BC and AB; likewise those in eastern Canada were offered firmware upgrades so that they could roam on the Telus network in western Canada. Shortly after the handset upgrades, Telus removed most of the Clearnet CDMA equipment in western Canada, however the Clearnet equipment in eastern Canada simply became the new Telus equipment.

The question is what Rogers will do with the equipment? For the time being, Rogers customers may take advantage of roaming on either network as part of their existing service plan; Fido customers, however may elect to pay an additional fee of $5/month to gain access to Rogers sites ('extended coverage area') under their current monthly plan. Rogers, like Telus, will have no long-term intention of operating two distinct GSM networks and will likely either dismantle the Fido network or use select portions of the Fido network as part of their network.

Rogers has however made it clear that it will continue to run business under the Fido name (unlike what Telus did with Clearnet) and following in what the Fido business plan was: to provide discount wireless phone services to customers in major cities across Canada. Remember that Fido also had over 50% of their customers on pre-paid plans. So in future months customers will continue to see the Fido name, but Rogers will likely gear Fido plans and service towards customers that are pre-paid or only have needs for their phone in major urban centres.

Existing Fido Customers

Existing Fido customers will continue to have access to the Fido network, but may choose to add a charge of $5/month to their existing plan to gain the "extended coverage" option.

As Rogers plans to continue to sell services under the Fido name, there will likely not be an option to upgrade your Fido plan to a Rogers plan without signing a new contract with Rogers. Using your existing Fido phone with a new Rogers plan may be an option if the handset is not locked, but you will likely need to obtain a Rogers SIM to replace your Fido one. Also note that Rogers offers both 850 and 1900 MHz GSM, but some Fido handsets only work off of 1900 MHz since that is the only frequency that Fido offered.

Existing Rogers Customers

Existing Rogers customers will notice little change, except for their handsets possibly locking onto a Fido signal in some areas where Fido offers better reception than Rogers.

Like Fido customers, Rogers customers will not have the option of moving to a Fido plan without breaking their existing contract with Rogers (if on one). The purchase of a new handset will likely be required as well, unless your existing one is already unlocked. You may also need a new SIM card.

Other Questions

Can I use a Rogers PAYG with Fido Pre-paid?
No, the two card types are not interchangeable. You still will need to purchase the card applicable to your plan.

Between providers calling: If I have free Rogers to Rogers calling, does this extend now to Rogers to Fido?

If I am a Fido customer, may I call the Rogers' number or go to a Rogers' store for service?
No, you still need to call Fido's service number or visit one of their stores or agents.

According to Rogers, the two companies will continue to operate as separate entities, with their own separate wireless plans, promotions, and so on. So the best way to think about the purchase of Fido is just that: Rogers purchased Fido and they plan to continue to run it as Fido, but there will be some background network changes to reduce the costs of running two separate GSM networks. If you want to move between providers (Rogers to Fido or Fido to Rogers) then they will need to break your existing contract (with penalty) and then sign up for a new plan with the other provider.

Canadian Competition

As Fido was the discount wireless phone provider for the Canadian market, there might be concerns that now that the discount provider has been bought out, the market prices will rise. This is likely not the case since Fido catered to a distinct niche of customers and this niche needs to be filled. If Rogers' suddenly absorbed all those customers onto term contracts and raised the monthly fees then some would just deal with it and others would drop their wireless services and go back to using pay phones.

The other point to address here is CityFido. CityFido competes directly with the landline market in Vancouver (Telus), Toronto, and Montréal (both Bell). Rogers never has had the option of landline competition before, but now it has. One possible outcome of the buyout of Fido is that Rogers will try and gain more landline share by pushing the CityFido plan to snag Telus and Bell landline customers. If anything landline prices might drop slightly or all the major providers may start putting together more attractive packages to get people to combine their landline and wireless phone services. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Other (biased) Comments

I've never considered any of the providers in North America to have wonderful networks without the usual issues of coverage holes or over-capacity during certain time periods. Some North American networks are better, but none of them are at par with GSM networks in Europe or Asia, for example.

Rogers, IMHO, has always been plagued with network problems, more so than other North American providers. Maybe it is because they are the only Canadian provider to offer services in every single province. Maybe it is because their priorities have been to have a country-wide network, but not a particularly well-structured one. Time after time as Rogers moved from analog (AMPS) to tdMA and now to GSM they have consistently repeated the errors from previous networks.

Fido, also IMHO, set up a very good network relative to other Canadian providers. Sure, it doesn't extend outside major cities, but when are within its footprint, it is a wonderful network to use. I'm sure the engineers at Microcell (Fido) studied the European GSM system quite well and tried to model it in Canada. Fido was also the first GSM network to be established in Canada.

CityFido for Fido was a challenge indeed. Not only did they have to set up a superior network in the cities that CityFido was offered, but they had to ensure that people could use their phones in places that traditionally wireless phones are not commonly used -- at home. This meant enhancing the services provided to residential neighbourhoods while dealing with the issues of setting up base stations in locations that traditionally people do not want transmission towers in.

So, I really hope that Rogers doesn't go and dismantle the Fido network to once again re-create an inferior GSM network. I do hope that they look at European and Asian GSM networks and try to create the same thing in Canada, like Fido tried to do. If they did, then Canada's only GSM network would really give the CDMA operators (Bell, Telus, etc.) a run for their money.


If you are an existing Fido or Rogers customer then make sure to read both the Fido FAQ and Rogers FAQ regarding the buyout on GeckoBeachForums.com.


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