The 2023 Canadian Telecom Summit: Seven Key Insights on Breaking Barriers in the Canadian Market

Last week, iQmetrix attended the 2023 Canadian Telecom Summit, which had the theme of Breaking Barriers – Collaboration for Accelerated Digital Innovation Across Telecom, Enterprise, and Society.”

Below are some key insights that emerged throughout the week on exactly that. 

1. We still have divides in accessibility, affordability, and inclusivity

Canada is a huge country and the population dispersion increases costs to bridge the digital divide and provide inclusive access to networks. It can cost millions to connect homes in rural areas and take decades to see an ROI. Despite increases in connectivity brought about by the pandemic, there is still a long way to go, particularly in remote and Indigenous communities. In some ways, visitors to our country can get better experience than Canadian residents. For example, someone from the U.S. on an AT&T plan can have more consistent roaming experience throughout the country than a Bell customer. Layered on top of that, Canada is going through an affordability crisis. People are stressed about mortgages, rent, utilities, and even how they are going to put food on the table. 

Panelists and speakers alike agreed that the core responsibility of the telecom sector isn’t about connecting places, it’s about powering human connection. To this end, Canada needs:

  • Policies to ensure everyone can get access – particularly in rural areas. Samer Bishay, CEO and Founder of Iristel Inc. observed that other countries doing better in setting up policies for Indigenous land, such as U.S.
  • Affordability programs for those that really need it. There has been a lot written about telecom prices in Canada and in last few years have seen heightened inflation, but there is an exception and that’s in costs of mobile and internet services. During the event Rogers announced a new $25 plan that 2.5 million Canadians will be eligible for.
  • Increased competition to help drive affordability.
  • Satellite services. Making services available not only for everyone, but everywhere” was a powerful message delivered by Jacques Leduc, President and CEO of TerreStar Solutions Inc.

2. Companies are investing in ESG and addressing climate change 

Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as global averages and has seen an increase in severe weather events and damage to infrastructure. Extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace endangering Canadians and critical infrastructure including telecommunications. These major weather events used to be once in a century that now seem to occur every year.

Some companies went into detail on the steps they are taking: 

  • Rogers highlighted that on the sustainability front they have developed an ESG committee, reporting to them is a climate change steering committee and a climate change working group. Rogers was the first national telecom to commit to 50% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050
  • Ericcson highlighted its actions being twofold by looking at its footprint” and minimizing its negative impact as well as its handprint” being how they are maximizing positive impact. 
  • TELUS explained how its strategy is threefold: 1. Reducing carbon emissions and waste, 2. Investing in technology to reduce, and 3. Optimizing biodiversity where the goal is to become nature positive. Telus is on track to be net 0 and in fact, nature positive. 
  • Accenture is highlighting how 5G can play a key role in achieving Canada’s sustainability goals with some of its reports including Accelerating 5G in Canada: The Role of 5G in the Fight Against Climate Change” and Canada’s next sustainability frontier: Powering digital transformation with connectivity.”

3. Canada still has a long way to go on 5

OpenSignal published an independent report during the event on Canada struggles in the global 5G race due to insufficient mid-band spectrum,” which explained the country is lagging on 5G, 5G download speeds, and 5G build out in general. 

A lot of the solutions are similar to what is also needed for accessibility and affordability which is a good thing particularly if companies are unable to multi-task.

  • Companies need to use the spectrum they have.
  • The Government needs to move more quickly on their pledges to 5G and the auctioning of Spectrum.
  • Competition will be important to the race to 5G and decentralizing the physical infrastructure.
  • Use cloud infrastructure and exposing of APIs so other providers can build on top better enabling 5G, operationalizing, and load sharing. 
  • Consider how new technologies such as Generative AI may help with productivity and innovation for 5G.

4. Telcos are nervous of but largely embracing Generative AI 

Hesham Fahmy, Chief Information officer at TELUS, kicked off his keynote on Generative AI by observing technology changes over the last 50 years and how long it took the internet, Facebook, and TikTok to gain 100M users, versus the breakneck speeds it took ChatGPT. 

Despite some of the inherent risks, again everyone seemed to agree that Generative AI is a transformative technology that everyone in the industry can take advantage of. Particularly in areas like 5G, productivity across the nation, 

TELUS claims to take responsible AI very seriously, and has partnered with the Responsible AI Institute. So, what else can be done to ensure to ensure responsible use of Generative AI? A host of ideas were shared, including:

  • We need more minds working on solving some of the risks
  • We need safe environments for learning, including for children. 
  • There needs to be agreement when it comes to accountability. 
  • A delicate balance of controls and consequences need to be established. 
  • We need regular checks and balances on progress. 
  • Companies need to ensure they have their own checks and balances beyond just a strong ROI.

5. The bigger threat is humans in terms of cyber security and fraud risks

An even bigger threat that seemed to be a theme throughout the event was not AI, but humans, and how important it is to protect Canadians and the world’s critical assets against the bad actors. According to Patrick Boudreau, Head of Identity Management & Fraud at TransUnion Canada suspected digital fraud attempts rose significantly in the Canadian Telecom Industry from 2019 to 2022

However, there are steps that can be taken to defend against the various issues at hand. 

  • It’s the responsibility of C suite to take ownership of their company’s security and it doesn’t come for free. 
  • Employee awareness is also needed. 
  • Companies can also help mitigate by focusing on network redundancy and setting KPIs and metrics around security. 
  • Legislative changes need to be made at a government level and at a much faster pace than is taking place today. 
  • For all the fear around AI tools, they can be used for good and helping identify fraud risks. 

6. Telcos’ digital transformation still has massive gaps

At the beginning of one of the panels on digital transformation there was a joke made around Is this the same digital transformation we were talking about five years ago? While it got a few laughs, it became increasingly clear how massive the gap is between the experience consumers expect and the one that is being provided today. 

Many throughout the conference could easily highlight lived examples of a broken experiences online, in-store, with call centers, chatbots, etc. 

While everyone agreed there is a massive gap/​opportunity, most also agreed that it’s often too complicated for businesses to leverage technology. They are required to do all the integration, take on the risk, acquire skill and capabilities. If you’re a big company, it’s hard. But if you’re a smaller company, it’s virtually impossible.

  • It will be important for companies to focus on experience-first technologies. Whether their motivations are technical debt, cost reduction, a customer experience angle, or something else, it will be important to take a holistic view of the entire experience for both employees and customers. 
  • Ensure you have a holistic digital transformation strategy. What many companies are doing is removing human interaction in the experience altogether and going entirely digital. It’s important to ensure your experience adapts to each type of customer and their preferences – digital, physical, or hybrid. 
  • If you don’t have the skills do it and you are unable to hire, partner with vendors who can provide professional services both around your strategy, implementation, and optimization. 
  • Ensure you’re building out the business case for your digital transformation strategy and showing an ROI. Take into account current subscriber loss, potential subscriber gain, reduction in technical debt when streamlining systems, etc. 

7. Carriers can’t be all things to all people, and need support 

Some speakers at the conference started out by saying telecom has a long way to go tackling things like climate change, digital trust, cyber security, and accessibility. What became increasingly clear throughout the conference is most often we are expecting the telecom carriers to do everything. Not only was their suggestion for them to lead the way tackling these many issues, but then we are also asking them to be experts in software, technology, policy, aviation, agriculture, healthcare, the customer experience, and the list goes on. 

Telecom carriers are very good at what they are good at – connecting people – but they are not and cannot be experts in all things. When it comes to providing a better customer experience, carriers could focus on what they do best – providing the network that connects people and places – and instead trust software vendors specializing in interconnected commerce to focus on bridging their customer experience gap. 

Click below to learn more about Interconnected Commerce, a telecom-specific set of software and technologies designed to help businesses streamline their tech ultimately providing a better experience for their employees and customers.