Offer gives subscribers unlimited calls through home Web connection
Rogers Communications Inc. is continuing to take aim at the country's traditional phone companies with a new mobile service that it says could eliminate the need for a home phone for some subscribers.
Barely a week after announcing a deal to offer Apple Inc.'s much-ballyhooed iPhone, the cable giant is set to begin rolling out a new GSM-based service today at both its Rogers Wireless and Fido brands that allows subscribers to switch seamlessly between the Rogers cellular network and specified Wi-Fi hot spots.
The service, which must be purchased in addition to a regular cellphone plan and be used at home, costs $15 a month for unlimited local calls and $20 a month for unlimited Canada-wide calls.
John Boynton, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at Rogers Wireless, said the service will be promoted heavily through the company's youth-oriented Fido brand.
"We're positioning this to young adults for whom their cellphone is their primary phone," Boynton said. Rogers hopes to scoop "a lot of wireless subscribers," he said, from rivals Bell Canada Inc. and Telus Corp., which don't currently offer a similar service for their CDMA-based networks.
Dubbed "Uno" on Fido and "Home Calling Zone" on Rogers, the ditch-your-landline sales pitch is reminiscent of the unlimited local calling plans offered by Fido before Rogers bought Fido's parent company Microcell in 2004.
However, the key difference this time around is that subscribers will only be able to make unlimited calls when they are at home, within range of their Wi-Fi router, which sends and receives calls over a high-speed Internet connection rather than over the Rogers cellular network. This service is limited to a single Wi-Fi station and does not allow wireless users to roam on other networks, in coffee shops, airports or other people's houses.
They must also use a handset equipped with Unlicensed Mobile Access, or UMA, technology.
Rogers has already made a sizeable dent in the traditional land line market with its VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol) service, which earlier this year hit the one-million subscriber mark.
Moving into the home phone market was initially seen as a way for Rogers to offer customers a so-called "quadruple play" of services, consisting of television, home phone, wireless and Internet.
Now the cable giant appears to be going after Bell and Telus customers who may be questioning whether it's necessary to own both a cellphone and a traditional land line – even if there's a risk that some Rogers home phone customers might also make the switch.
"It makes much more eloquent the case for wireless substitution," said Iain Grant, president of consultants The SeaBoard Group.
However, Grant questioned whether Rogers' UMA efforts would really be much of a breakthrough for consumers given that a similar effect could be achieved more simply by offering cheaper cellular rates, which would not require the installation of extra equipment and a high-speed Internet connection.
Like other critics, Grant has cited a lack of wireless competition in Canada for high cellular prices – particularly when it comes to wireless data applications such as email and mobile Web browsing.