Rogers inks pair of deals — including SpaceX — for satellite-to-phone service

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Rogers must fulfill list of conditions in Shaw merger or face stiff financial penalties
Rogers must fulfill list of conditions in Shaw merger or face stiff financial penalties – Mar 31, 2023

Rogers Communications Inc. says it has inked two deals to become the first carrier in Canada to provide satellite-to-phone connectivity, a feature that could mean Canadians using their phones for talk, text and data no matter where they live or travel in the country.

The telecom giant, fresh off its blockbuster acquisition of Calgary’s Shaw Communications, says the move will have major ramifications for rural and remote connectivity and Canadians’ ability to connect to 911 and emergency services in areas that previously would have been off the grid.

The pair of deals, one with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to use the company’s Starlink system and another with U.S.-based Lynk Global, will have Rogers utilizing its existing wireless spectrum with the companies’ low-earth orbit satellite constellations.

Both projects will enable text messaging and eventually expand to provide voice and wireless internet services, according to two releases announcing the deals.

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The announcement for Lynk Global’s project calls for satellite-to-phone service to launch in 2024, while no timelines were given for SpaceX’s involvement. The rollout of any such projects, given that they involve the use of wireless spectrum, will need the approval of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

While most Canadians likely think of satellite phones as the often-bulky devices used by military and outdoor enthusiasts to maintain connections via satellites orbiting high above the earth, these projects would connect to existing 4G- and 5G-enabled smartphones using lower orbit satellites.

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Rogers says that these features will also eventually allow Canadians to dial 911 or text first responders directly from anywhere in the country, potentially bridging a gap in emergency responsiveness.

After a nationwide Rogers outage last summer left many Canadians without service for a day or more, Canadian telecom providers were mandated by the government to come together to ensure a more seamless transition between carriers when it comes to accessing 911.

The news comes a few weeks after Rogers announced the deal to take over the wireless network of the Toronto Transit Commission, expanding its service to the city’s subway system.

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Rogers to provide cell service in TTC subways

“From underground transit systems in Canada’s largest cities, to cell towers in space covering Northern communities, Rogers is leading to bring Canadians the biggest and best wireless networks across the country, to keep them connected and safe,” said Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri in a statement.

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“Emergencies do not wait and that is one of the reasons why we are investing to make sure Canadians can always reach 911 from anywhere in Canada.”

The company has already completed successful remote tests with the Lynk’s technology in British Columbia, according to a statement, and will soon start enabling connectivity in Atlantic Canada.

Canada’s auditor general released a report in March stating that while access to internet and mobile service has improved for Canadians living outside major cities since the Liberal government released its connectivity strategy in 2019, “a digital divide remains” between urban centres and rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

Rogers’ latest deals come the same month it closed its $26-billion acquisition of Shaw, a move that expanded the Toronto-based telecom further into Western Canada.

Among the conditions that came with Ottawa’s final sign-off on the deal, Rogers committed to expand broadband connectivity in remote regions over the next five years.

Global News parent company Corus Entertainment is owned by the Shaw family, previously the owners of Shaw Communications.

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