Canadian Telecoms Face Urgent Need for Network Investments as Data Consumption Set to Double by 2027
Canada’s telecom industry is facing a critical need for network investments as data consumption is projected to double by 2027, according to a study by PwC’s Canadian Telecom Outlook. The report reveals that telecom providers in Canada will have to increase their capital expenditures for 5G and fibre networks by two percent per year to meet the growing demand for mobile data use.
John Simcoe, partner and national media and telecom leader for PwC Canada, emphasized the necessity for heavy investments in infrastructure to serve customers across different networks. However, he noted that these projections were calculated before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released a partial decision on third-party access to fibre networks.
The CRTC’s decision, announced on Monday, allows independent internet providers to use larger telephone companies’ fibre networks in Ontario and Quebec. The ruling aims to stimulate competition for internet services in these provinces, where independent providers have seen a drop in the number of customers they serve. BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. are now required to provide competitors with access to their fibre-to-the-home networks within six months.
However, Bell Canada, a subsidiary of BCE Inc., responded by announcing significant cuts to its network investment plans. The company plans to reduce its spending by over $1 billion in 2024-25, including a minimum of $500 million next year. On the other hand, Telus Corp. has not indicated how it will respond to the decision.
The telecom industry in Canada is facing several challenges, including high interest rates and capital costs, labor and material shortages, and the impact of severe weather on infrastructure. PwC’s Sam O’Halloran emphasized the importance of investment and questioned the extent to which the industry can be pushed before investments are cut back and jobs are lost.
Robert Ghiz, president and CEO of the Canadian Telecommunications Association, stressed the need for a regulatory environment in Canada that encourages investment and competition between network-building companies. He highlighted the importance of stability and incentives for investment in the industry.
The CRTC defended its decision, stating that it aims to stabilize the market and increase consumer choice and affordability in areas where it will have a significant impact. Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is currently reviewing the decision to ensure it aligns with the government’s goal of offering the best prices for Canadian consumers through a competitive telecommunications market.
While the impact of the CRTC’s decision on incumbent carriers is expected to be manageable due to capital expense reductions, RBC Capital Markets analyst Drew McReynolds criticized the decision’s regional nature. He found it perplexing that the decision was applied only to Ontario and Quebec, rather than other regions with fiber-to-the-home networks.
The broader review by the CRTC into the rates that smaller competitors pay major telecoms for network access is ongoing. OpenMedia, an advocacy organization promoting internet accessibility, expressed disappointment that the decision came late, as most small internet service providers have already been pushed out or absorbed by telecom giants.
In conclusion, Canadian telecoms are facing a pressing need for network investments due to the projected doubling of data consumption by 2027. While the CRTC’s decision to allow third-party access to fibre networks in Ontario and Quebec aims to increase competition, it has also led to cuts in network investment plans by major carriers. The industry calls for a regulatory environment that encourages investment and stability to meet the growing demand for network infrastructure and services.