Measuring wireless broadband in Canada

10 Oct


Further to yesterday’s post about the International Telecommunications Union and its policy recommendations, at least one of which is tremendously ironic for Canada now given the government’s shocking rejection of Allstream’s sale to an Egyptian billionaire, the ITU’s latest broadband internet report has some other instructive findings for the country.

Much of the report is devoted to monitoring and suggesting broadband improvements in the developing world, but there are also some interesting statistics as they pertain to advanced nations. For one, Canada ranks fairly well on a global level in terms of wired broadband penetration, coming in at 12th out of 183 countries with about a third of the population connected.

Things aren’t as pretty on the mobile broadband side, however, with Canada ranking well down at 32nd, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the country’s dead-last status in overall cellphone penetration in stats from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to the ITU, only about half the population is connected in wireless fashion, which pales in comparison to leader Singapore and its 123-per-cent mobile penetration or second-place Japan at 113 per cent. Worse still, Canada’s ranking is worst among G8 countries, save for Germany with 41 per cent.

The ITU figures seem to be at odds with some of the stats that were rolled out recently by Canadian cellphone companies during the Great Wireless War of ’13. As their chief lobbyist Bernard Lord put it in an op-ed in August, Canada is apparently second in the G7 in terms of smartphone penetration.

The discrepancy, as with all such numbers, is nuanced. The ITU counts penetration per 100 inhabitants – or per the entire population – while most smartphone estimates divide only into the number of actual cellphone subscribers. Such is the case with comScore:


Which measure is more relevant is up for debate, but even if the more favourable-looking-to-Canada method of counting the percentage of cellphone users is used, the numbers still aren’t anything to get excited about. According to the ITU, Canada is nowhere near being a world leader in mobile internet. And as we well know by now, pricing is probably a large reason why. As OECD statistician Agustin Díaz-Pínes told the Wire Report back in the summer, “You wonder why take-up is higher everywhere else and not there, especially if Canadians can afford it in general,” he said. “Pricing influences penetration rates.””

Yesterday, I wrote about how the ITU suggests the further liberalizing of telecom markets in order to spur competition. One of its other especially relevant recommendations, in a Canadian context, suggests the exploration of easing network access for all competitors:

Open access has been interpreted to mean that all suppliers, whether in horizontal or vertical markets, are able to obtain access to the new network facilities on fair, reasonable and equivalent terms. This can include price terms (such as the price that the wholesaler is allowed to charge for access) and non-price issues (such as delivery times, service level agreements, clear product specifications, etc.).

Mandated sharing of networks – whether it’s through mechanisms such as wholesale access or the structural separation of network owners – is such a logical evolution that the only question is when will it happen, not if. Or more specifically, how much additional time and consumers’ money will be wasted.

With the Conservatives evidently confused on how to improve Canada’s telecom market, the smart bet to that question is: a lot more.


Posted by on October 10, 2013 in telecommunications


4 responses to “Measuring wireless broadband in Canada

  1. FrankandErnest

    October 10, 2013 at 3:02 am

    Keep hammering at them, Peter.. surely the truth will win out…… We can only hope.

  2. Gary N

    October 10, 2013 at 11:46 am

    It’s funny how you condemn Canadian markets citing lack of competition and yet right in your own links it shows how the UK went from 5 to 4 network operators and France just grew to 4. While people like you go and say we have no competition with 3 network operators and several regional players with the likes of SaskTel, MTS, Videotron, Wind and Eastlink, all with a population far less than the UK or France and with a much larger area to cover. Alberta alone is the size of France …
    You also never mention that Canadians have access to the best quality wireless service in the world and that three quarters and Europe has no access to 4G LTE service while 80% of Canada does. You also don’t mention that Canadian wireless is ranked second in mobile access speeds. To get this quality that many don’t have you have to pay something for it don’t you think.

    Bell has 7.7 million customers, Telus has 7.7 million and Rogers has almost 10 million and Wind claims 600,000. Now that’s 25 million right there without factoring in Videotron, SaskTel, MTS, and Eastlink. Hardly the 50% connectivity rate that you claim in this article.

    • Peter Nowak

      October 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      I’ve actually mentioned all of that in previous posts. As for the 50% connectivity rate, that’s not my “claim” but what the ITU calculates.

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