Election Day

Today is finally the day of the 43rd Canadian Federal General Election. I am sure we are all exhausted from the campaign to date. This post is not about “who to vote for” nor an exhortation to go out and do your civic duty. Rather it is a short summary of some topics specifically related to telecom and technology in general in Canada that are really important to our future prosperity that I don’t think were discussed much in the platforms and debates.

Innovation
Canada’s future prosperity depends on innovation. The Council of Canadian Innovators say Canada’s “productivity is lagging and our future economic prosperity is at risk”. Entrepreneurs that create start-ups and grow scale-ups need an environment that encourages them to grow and scale here in Canada and allow them to compete globally. They need skilled talent (engineers, and also designers, marketers, sales professionals and executives), growth capital and access to markets and customers.

Canada produces a lot of world class talent in our universities and colleges and we need better incentives to keep them here as opposed to going to the USA for higher wages and more attractive opportunities. We need a mindset shift towards the entrepreneurs that are shouldering great risk to build innovative companies in Canada with tax measures supporting innovation, venture funding, employee stock options etc. Plus we need a Federal government that can attract attention to our innovative companies here, even to the extent of procuring products and services from them .

5G and Huawei
The next generation network is being built right now, globally and here in Canada. 5G is transformative, not just a faster network, but also providing lower latency and opening up a host of new use cases especially to power the Internet of Things (IoT). Autonomous connected cars are just one example. We are going to see all sorts of devices connected to our networks, direct machine to machine communications, that will demand security levels beyond what we currently have.

There is an ongoing debate worldwide, prompted by our Five Eyes national security partners Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand over whether equipment from Huawei, a technology vendor from Communist China, should be allowed access to our networks. The Huawei debate is also part of a larger debate about Canada’s relationship with China, a country that does not have the same norms and values as Canada. This was not addressed at all during the election campaign, yet it is vital to our future.

Connectivity (Rural , Remote and Financial)
Access to the Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity in the modern economy. We need to ensure that all citizens have reliable access to high speed broadband Internet. There is an urban/rural divide for sure, but this issue extends well beyond that. We need connectivity for rural areas; as an example, much of modern agriculture relies on internet technology now. We need connectivity in our remote areas such as the Arctic as well as Northern Ontario , Northern Quebec, Labrador. Of course so that people living there can participate in the modern economy but also as an extension of our sovereignty. With the changes in sea ice happening in the Northwest Passage we should also be looking into laying undersea fiber cables through the passage to provide another route connecting Europe to Asia. Finally, connectivity also means affordability . There are people in urban areas who are not online because they cant afford it. This digital gap also needs to be further addressed, especially for school age children who need the Internet for their school work.

I will be staying up late tonight watching the election returns as I am a political junky. Even though these issues were not front and centre in the run-up to todays election, I hope they will be addressed in our next Parliament as our future really does depend upon it.

Global Internet Phenomena

Sandvine produces the Global Internet Phenomena Report

It seems that each year that I went to the Canadian Telecom Summit, one of the highlights was Dave Caputo, the former CEO of Sandvine, giving a presentation with pearls of wisdom from their Global Internet Phenomena Report. That annual report was also then quoted in many other presentations as the authoritative source for what was happening on broadband networks around the world.

For example, back in 2012, Sandvine focussed on Social Networking and reported that Facebook was one of the top 4 applications on the Web and that over 50% of mobile devices communicated with Facebook each hour !

The 2019 Global Internet Phenomena Report was just released by Sandvine on Sept 10. Sandvine, a Waterloo company (forgive me some local cheerleading) has unparalleled visibility into the Internet industry with an installed base of over 2.5 billion subscribers worldwide across over 160 Tier 1 and Tier 2 fixed, mobile, WiFi and satellite operators. (note that China and India are not included in this data set)

So what is changing in how the world uses the Internet ? A lot !

Video is obviously king, but in ways that keep changing and evolving. Netflix led the way with streaming but now we are seeing more and more competitive streaming services; Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and new ones coming from Disney, Apple, CBS and others. The big traditional cable and telco companies have been fighting back, trying to stop cord cutting with their own streaming offerings and video on demand.

How many different services will a consumer buy to replace their cable ? What do they do if the content they want is not on the services they are buying ? Well, the answer may be in this report as Sandvine is seeing a resurgence in BitTorrent traffic. The release of the final season of Game of Thrones on HBO , or the blockbuster movie Avengers:Endgame could be seen in the increase in BitTorrent traffic.

The big players in Web 2.0, the ones whose shares currently dominate the global stock markets are the FAANG ; Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. Would it really be a surprise to find out that they also dominate the traffic on the Internet ?

Some other highlights from this edition of the report include:

  • Video is over 60% of the total downstream volume of traffic on the internet.
  • Netflix is 12.60% of the total downstream volume of traffic across the entire internet
  • Google is 12% of overall internet traffic, driven by YouTube, search, and the Android ecosystem.
  • Gaming traffic and gaming-related bandwidth consumption is increasing as gaming downloads, Twitch streaming, and eSports go mainstream.
  • BitTorrent is over 27% of total upstream volume of traffic
  • Facebook applications make up over 15% of the total internet traffic in APAC.

The report includes spotlights on the traffic share leaders for video, social networking, messaging, audio streaming, and gaming.

If you are interested, you can get a download of the report here

ISP Summit – Day 2


The Canadian telecom and Internet regulatory model is broken. The basic premise is that the regulator, the CRTC, puts rules in place to support market and consumer choice. This can be traced back to the original resale and sharing rules from the 1980’s and then Decision 92-12 that opened up the long distance market to competition. But currently independent Internet service providers cant get reasonable access to the oligopoly fibre access to the home.

I personally ran into this situation when I sold my long time home back in 2014 and moved into a new apartment building that was wired with fibre from Bell and Rogers. I wanted to get internet service from my long time provider, Packetworks. But I could not as the telcos were not required to provide access to their fibre networks. Even after a decision in 2015 that was ostensibly to open up the market to choice by forcing the oligopoly to resell their fiber access networks, the rules are so arcane that it is not cost effective for a competitive provider to gain access.

In our new home, I was able to get Internet service from TekSavvy using the existing cable TV network for access. I am partial to the 150 MB download speed and the unlimited usage that TekSavvy offers. There will come a time though, and probably soon because I work from home, that I will want to upgrade the download speed and that will require fibre optic access. If the rules don’t change I will be limited to having to get service from Bell or Rogers and won’t be able to support independent Internet service providers. I won’t have a choice. That has to change.

That is why I have decided to join CNOC, the Canadian Network Operators Consortium. CNOC is the organization that puts on the Canadian Internet Summit each year. It represents over 35 independent internet service providers like TekSavvy, Distributel and Primus. CNOC fights for fair rules from the CRTC, not just for its members, but for all Canadians. My entire 35 year career in telecom has always been on the competitive side so this seemed like a natural move. I can’t just sit on the sidelines and let others just fight on my behalf, it is time to take a stand.

Will you join me ?

2018 Canadian ISP Summit


Monday, November 5th, 2018 is the start of this year’s Canadian ISP Summit to be held at the Toronto Mariott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel. Designed for Internet Service Providers (large and small) from across the country, the Canadian ISP Summit is a conference that allows attendees to learn, grow and network in the Internet and data networking field.

It is put on by CNOC, The Canadian Network Operators Consortium Inc. There are three days filled with keynotes, panels, general sessions and lightning talks. There will be technical sessions, business related sessions and some superb regulatory discussions. There are plenty of opportunities to network before and after sessions, during coffee breaks and meals as well as cocktail receptions and fabulous dinners.

I have been lucky enough to attend two of the last three ISP Summits and will be attending again this year. It gives me an opportunity to focus on the data side of AurorA’s business. International telecommunications is more than just voice termination; AurorA also provides international data services such as MPLS, SD-WAN and even private line bandwidth up the wavelength level. The Summit energizes me, educates me and introduces me to data and ISP industry people from across Canada.

This year I will be trying something new by blogging from the conference. My goal is to post a summary each night of some of the more significant talks, discussion and events of the Summit that I feel would be relevant to you, my readers, specifically from an international telecom perspective.

Hopefully, I will see you live at the Canadian ISP Summit. If not, then check in here in early November for my updates from #ISPSummit. If there is something specific you would like me to cover then leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter (@TimoVainionpaa)

How We Can Win

As usual a good part of my summer relaxation was reading. While on vacation in the Spectacular Northwest Territories I indulged in fiction (Neil Gaiman who is a favourite of mine, Jo Nesbo for spare Nordic crime stories and a Young Adult book “Gregor, the Overlander” from my stepson) as during the year I read mainly non-fiction. My family knows that I love books, so I try to make gift giving easy by having “Wanted Reading” lists prominently posted. One book that I got for Christmas and have been itching to read was Anthony Lacavera’s “How We Can Win – And what happens to us and our country if we don’t” which I finally got to read !

This book is a call for action for all Canadians to Dare to Succeed, to apply the same lessons that we learned in Olympic medal success with our Own the Podium program to our business and economic life. He argues that our future prosperity, and being able to afford all the things we value as Canadians, our social safety net, universal health care, our high quality education system are all dependent on us changing our beliefs and then acting on improving our productivity, innovation and competitiveness. Especially our international competitiveness.

I was lucky enough to have met Anthony Lacavera once in the past, back when Globealive had bought Yak, around 2008. He was very smart, friendly and engaging. Plus I have heard him speak at the Canadian Telecom Summit many times when he was running WIND, the scrappy cellphone company that was challenging the Bell/Telus/Rogers mobile oligopoly . As my entire career in telecom has been on the competitive side, cutting my teeth during the Long Distance wars back in the early 1990’s I was really anticipating reading the WIND story and learning more details about what actually happened.

The entire first chapter is devoted to WIND and its various trials and tribulations. Some of the anti-competitive roadblocks that WIND ran into challenging the incumbents sounded very familiar. The oligopoly does not play fair when their protected position is threatened. The Federal government and the regulator allow this. Lacavera presents it all as Exhibit A of why our business culture here in Canada has to change if we are to succeed as a nation. Our telecom sector is coddled, not required to compete against the best in the world, and hence our other businesses, enterprises and citizens overpay for substandard services. And since telecom services are THE key input in an information economy it hampers all other sectors ability to innovate, compete and be productive.

Lacavera then proceeds to highlight in subsequent chapters other factors that are holding back Canadians in winning in the global marketplace. He highlights our attitudes and belief systems , the Canadian mentality to “Go for Bronze” or a participation award rather then aiming to win big, as if wanting to come first was “Un Canadian”. The lack of funding available to high growth startups, from angel investors and from venture capital which is much harder to get in Canada. Highly touted Government R&D and innovation programs are designed to maximize political gains and spread large amounts of money around the country, often ineffectively. There is no true policy for identifying sectors or companies that show true promise of being disrupters that can be scaled to tackle global markets.

We have seen some of these arguments before in various studies and expert panels that the Federal government commissions and then ignores or only partially implements. The book does a good job of integrating many of them such as the Jenkins panel in 2011, Naylor in 2015, Wilson in 2008. The book brings all of these and more into one cohernet call for action, not just for government but for all of us.

One of the most positive and optimistic chapters highlights some of the work being done at the Creative Disruption Lab at the University of Toronto. Here start-up founders could get a “dose of judgement” from seasoned entrepreneurs who had “been there, and done that”. They can share their experience, network connections, and judgement with young founders. Start-ups have to compete hard to get into (and stay in the program), as do MBA students, industry types and anyone else who wants to observe. The chapter has some great examples of start-ups that have benefitted and were able to accelerate their growth providing concrete proof that we can do this here.

My only quibble with the book would be a personal one as I live and work in Kitchener/Waterloo. There are many references made to people and companies from Waterloo. Tom Jenkins(Open Text), Jim Balsillie (RIM, Blackberry), Ted Livingston (Kik), Stephen Lake (Thalmic Labs), Mallory Brodie (Bridgit) were some that come to mind. I understand that Anthony Lacavera has ties to Toronto, but I would have expected to read more about the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation that is happening here in Waterloo where world leading companies have already emerged and where we are home to the second highest density of tech start-ups outside of Silicon Valley. A lot of what he is prescribing is actually happening here.

I quite enjoyed this book and whole heartedly recommend it; both for general business audiences but especially to anyone who is an executive in Canadian telecom.

Canadian Telecom Summit – Day 3


Wednesday wrapped up the 2018 version of the Canadian Telecom Summit. Day 3 featured panels on Artificial Intelligence and Innovation (both great topics when you hail from Canada’s tech capital, Waterloo), keynotes from Allison Lenehan of Xplornet, Patricia Meredith of Catalytic Governance and Stephen Howe the CTO of Bell. Then the finale, a keynote from Navdeep Bains the Federal Minister for ISED.

Most of the above content is covered on twitter and in news reports on CARTT, the Wire Report and in the daily newspapers so I won’t rehash those details. One thing I did find very cool, was Stephen Howe showing us in his luncheon keynote how they are installing 4G LTE advanced service to 25 sites WAY up North, north of the Northwest Passage. The logistics make it a 2 year build, with all the required gear being shipped up in shipping containers through a narrow window of June to September in a race against the ice. You have to send up everything as you cant run out to Rona for tie wraps or tools up in Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island. That was very interesting to see the challenges of installing cell service in a harsh remote location and it made my inner engineer geek out.

I also wondered if it might have been more cost effective to just get every resident an Iridium phone and a subsidized plan ?

So what did I get from my 17th edition of the Canadian Telecom Summit ? A reminder, again, that it is all about the people. The CTS brings a lot of our industry together in one place for three days, to learn, to argue, to laugh and eat and talk, face-to-face. Given that we make our livings in telecommunications it is still vitally important to connect in person. It is a reminder that I need to have such interactions more often.

Yes, I did business while at the event. How could I not ? But it is more than just doing deals and making sales. I got to meet-up and catch up with many old friends who have been through the ‘telecom wars” with me. At the lunches and coffee breaks and networking reception I got to meet new people, from all over the industry and all over the country. I even got a recommendation for a great Ethiopian restaurant in Yellowknife for when we visit this August (thanks Curtis !).

So a big thank you to my friends Michael and Mark for another great edition of the Canadian Telecom Summit. This event is important, thanks for gathering us all together for three days and I am grateful that you do it.