06 October 2009


Telus and Bell go iPhone in Canada

Things have been all a-twitter about Canadian mobile carriers Bell and Telus (my cell phone provider) starting to sell Apple's iPhone, supposedly next month. My wife Air told me the scoop yesterday, and I was surprised, and skeptical.

But it sounds like it's really happening. This is a bigger deal than it seems if you don't follow the mobile phone industry, for two reasons:

  1. In most markets, Apple has an exclusive arrangement with a single carrier to sell the iPhone. Until now in Canada, that has been with Rogers Wireless and its subsidiary Fido, and in the U.S. it remains AT&T Wireless. Having competing carriers all with the iPhone is unusual.
  2. The iPhone uses the most common mobile phone radio standard in the world, known as GSM. However, until now both Bell and Telus have used a competing and incompatible standard, CDMA, also used by Verizon and Sprint in the U.S.A.

In North America, many mobile phones (such as BlackBerry devices) come in both CDMA and GSM versions for different carriers, but the iPhone has been GSM-only since its introduction in 2007. It turns out that Bell and Telus have been installing some GSM technology on their cellular towers for at least a year, and planning to have it ready for many customers in 2010.

But now it looks like they'll be early, and the iPhone may be their first big rollout of 3G (third-generation) GSM wireless. And although it will be awhile, my old CDMA phone is likely on the way to becoming obsolete. Qualcomm, which owns the CDMA patents and licenses them to carriers and device makers, had better be looking for some new way to make money.

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I think the G&M reporter missed the real story.

Like you, I'll believe it when I see it (the iPhone avail from Telus, I mean). I believe the part about Telus and Bell installing GSM technology on their towers. But I suspect that has little or nothing to do with the iPhone, and everything to do with their desire to share a piece of the gouging that will occur when all of those GSM-using tourists show up in Feb.
A subplot of the story is that up north (I'm in Yellowknife) we only have Bell (and its subsidiary NWTel and a couple indies) so have not had the option of the iPhone. Given the iPhone's revolutionary nature (eg. apps), now the north is less of a digital backwater (assuming Bell does indeed offer iPhones up here - they'd better!)
Jordan took the words right out of my mouth. Bell (or is it Telus? I can't remember) is a major sponsor of the Olympics, so how bad would it look for them if people are sitting in the venues surrounded by Bell logos everywhere... except their phones which have roamed to Rogers. All those touristas racking up roaming charges (and let's not forget roaming DATA charges--serious pound-you-in-the-ass charges) and they want a piece of it.
Bell is the telecom provider for the 2010 games, and I hadn't even thought of that: of course they'll want to have infrastructure in place to cover GSM-using international visitors (as well as those CDMA types from Japan, China, etc.).

So it will be interesting to see what kind of 3G GSM coverage they offer outside of Vancouver and Whistler, but it sounds like they're planning to offer it Canada-wide.

And it looks like I'll be asking what kind of deal I can get on an iPhone with Telus in the last year of my three-year contract...
I'd been planning to wait out the rest of my Telus contract (which ends in May) to jump ship to Rogers or Fido to get me an iPhone, so now it looks like I'll be in line behind you to find out what kind of deal Telus is willing to give me in the last year of my contract too!