Why Bell Has The Upper Hand Against Rogers When It Comes To Internet Access In Canada

Last week I posted a story about Bell rolling out fibre across Toronto and offering up 1 Gbit/s symmetrical speeds today, with faster speeds coming in the future. In that story, I said this:

Having symmetrical speeds is something that in the past was only found in business class Internet. The fact that Bell is bringing it to consumers is a big deal. And the fact that they’re the only ones thus far to do so has Rogers on the back foot as Rogers doesn’t offer fibre to the premises nor do they offer symmetrical speeds. 

That got me a few emails over the weekend asking why Rogers can’t compete with Bell. Thus I decided to write a follow up to explain why Bell has the upper hand against Rogers in this regard.

First of all Bell is delivering fibre optic cable to the home. Meaning that it’s an end to end fiber connection which benefits you the consumer by delivering a low latency connection that’s capable of delivering very fast speeds. Low latency is important when you’re playing Call Of Duty online or having a video chat with relatives overseas for example because in the former case, you’ll be better able to pwn your opponents as there will be no lag for you to contend with, while in the latter case you will get a fluid video stream going in both directions which means that you get a better video chat experience.

Now contrast that with Rogers. They deliver Internet access by using a system they call “Hybrid Fibre” which means that the Rogers network is largely fibre optic cable. But the so-called “last mile” to your home is copper cable. The problem with that scheme is that copper cable can only handle so much bandwidth. Since Rogers is in the process of rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 across their network (at present they have DOCSIS 3.1 enabled on the downstream part of their Internet connections, but not on the upstream part of their Internet connections), that means that they’re capped at 10 Gbit/s downstream and 1 Gbit/s upstream as per this Wikipedia page. Bell is talking about speeds of 40 Gbit/s in both directions. Not only that, having the last mile over copper cable introduces latency to the connection. Sometimes as high as 30ms based on my testing with my own Rogers Gigabit connection. Some of the people in my condo who have the Bell product are getting latency as low as 5ms. Clearly, Bell has the upper hand from a technical standpoint. And that’s ignoring the fact that Bell is able to offer symmetrical speeds which Rogers can’t.

In order for Rogers to compete with Bell on this front, they only really have two choices. The first choice is to hope that a technology called DOCSIS 3.1 Full Duplex comes to market quickly and they can roll that out as that would give them a fighting chance with their current infrastructure. DOCSIS 3.1 Full Duplex would give them the ability to provide the symmetrical speeds that Bell does, which would level the playing field somewhat.  The last time I checked it was still in the R&D stage, so that may not be an option as any rollout would be years away. Plus it likely wouldn’t solve the latency problem as you’re still pushing Internet over copper which introduces latency. Which brings me to choice number 2. Rogers will at some point have throw in the towel in terms of “hybrid fibre” and provide true fiber to the home for that last mile. While that’s not instant, it may be their best chance to compete with Bell. And Rogers has done this in a very limited fashion in some places in Toronto. Thus they know how to get that done. Whatever choice Rogers picks, they have to get it done quickly as Bell is on a full court press to take this advantage that they have from a technical standpoint and turn it into something that makes Rogers an afterthought when it comes to Internet access.

This will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months and years ahead. Because right now Bell has the upper hand when it comes to Internet access and Rogers is clearly on the back foot with no clear path to getting back on the front foot.

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3 Responses to “Why Bell Has The Upper Hand Against Rogers When It Comes To Internet Access In Canada”

  1. However, in my case at least, Bell is NOT providing fiber optic cabling direct “to the home.” I was solicited by direct sales at my door (a third party sales company wearing Bell uniforms and having Bell ID – but that is another issue) and they were clear that the fiber optic cable goes to a HUB in the neighbourhood. (There has been no work done on my property, and Ii did not switch to their services.) Same is the case with a family member in another large city in Ontario – fiber optic goes to a neighbourhood HUB, not to the home. So, people need to be careful. It is way too costly for Bell to be delivering fiber optic to every house in Toronto or wherever. Perhaps if you are in a condo or apt building and Bell places the HUB in the building AND rewires the condo to have fiber optic cabling to each unit AND to each of the unit’s outlets, then the speeds claimed may be more representative of reality. However, if you want fiber optics from the HUB to your home, then you are going to pay for it…This appears to be mostly hype, smoke, mirrors, and misleading information.

    • Here’s my commentary on that.

      In my condo, they ran fibre to every unit over a year ago. On top of that, I have clients in the 416/647 area codes who have single family dwellings that had the same thing done to their homes anywhere from a year ago to more recently. So Bell appears to be on the level with their fiber to the home deployment. Also if you browse Reddit, you’ll find lots of examples of people who are getting exactly what Bell is promising.

      One other thing, I did note in my original story that if Bell stays away from the sort of stuff that has gotten them into trouble recently, they can really make Rogers hurt. We’ll see if they do that.

  2. […] major reason why I haven’t switched from Rogers to Bell for my telco services. Sure Bell has a way better Internet offering than Rogers. And unlike Rogers they support the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE, but their customer service is so […]

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