When Ted Rogers was interviewing Nick Kauser, he asked if Nick could build a cellular system in less than twelve months. Nick’s reply was “do we have any choice?”
As none of us knew this was impossible, we did it anyway.
THE NOVATEL SOLUTION
We had proposed to the Federal Government using an all Canadian system. The first time I visited the NovAtel plant in Alberta, all they had was several nearly empty rooms and a 19″ rack with some wires hanging out. It did not take long before Nick, Walter Steel and I decided we had to go somewhere else. This led to the Ericsson ‘Switch’.
This turned out to be a very happy relationship. However, we still had to negotiate the Tripartite agreement between NovAtel, Ericsson and ourselves. Under this agreement, NovAtel was supposed to manufacture some Ericsson components and make the NovAtel radios compatible with the Ericsson switch. None of this ever happened but it did lead to Ericsson creating a very large presence in Montreal. The Government ended up delighted.
We still however used the NovAtel Brick – a Canadian made phone only a lumberjack could love!
WE ARE ALL AT SEA
The first containers we used for our cell sites looked like SEA-GOING containers. In fact, they were. We assembled these in Montreal and shipped them across the country. This was a very innovative approach when we had to move quickly to create cell sites.
THE BEST SERVICE EVER
We started with a single cell site in Toronto. Nick commented that that was the most reliable service we ever provided. It was all downhill from there!
THE NATIONAL DREAM
Having a national licence meant we could put cell sites along major traffic corridors. However, we quickly encountered the ‘Not in my backyard’ syndrome. I remember that Brighton on 401 refused to allow a cell site. I attended their town hall meeting and was clearly the only person with a suit. We said that people would consider Brighton a’ black hole’ on the highway. This finally won them over.
We were the first in cottage country. This was more because Ted had a cottage in Muskoka than for any usage projections that we could make. It turned out that Jean de Grandpre had a cottage in the Laurentians and therefore Bell Mobility quickly followed. The decision turned out to be a good one however dragging considerable Toronto/Montreal business along for the ride.
We then announced our plan to go Coast-to-Coast with continuous cellular coverage. This plan looked best on the coloured slides we used at the Annual General meeting. Fortunately, everyone forgot that we had promised this, as the economics did not stand up to the grand vision.
For a presentation I was making to some engineers, I asked Nick to explain how he did propagation studies. He showed me all the elaborate computer simulations. He then said the best thing to do was to stand on the potential cell site location and look around – real down-to-earth engineering.
THE GREAT GAP
By about 1987, we had sold far ahead of our capacity to deliver service. We had expected in the GTA to have about 60,000 subscribers and ended up with 95,000. Needless-to-say the service deteriorated to the point of consumer revolt.
I set up the President’s office war room and was flooded with complaint calls. We staffed the President’s office with our top CSG’s and this personal touch seemed to work.
John Ricketts, one of our Directors, recommended at a Board meeting that we build 25% ahead of demand. Everyone thought this was a great idea except of course that we had not enough money to even build what we already had in the budget!
CYCLE CELL ANAEMIA
Ted concluded that the problem with lack of cells was a real estate challenge. For some months we met every Friday morning to check the progress in getting sites. It turned out that the real problem was less real estate than municipal approval.
The prime site we needed was at the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo. We facetiously proposed growing some foliage up the tower and allowing the monkeys to play on it.
It seems we also ran a competition with Bell Mobility as who could install the ugliest site. I believe we won with the site at Yonge and 401 but they were certainly a close second with Mount Pleasant and St. Clair.
CELLULAR IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH
We managed to survive claims that using a portable cell phone would cause you to glow in the dark. We still have the technical challenge of claims that cellular phones turn-off heart monitors and the like.
DALLYING WITH DIGITAL
After a CTIA meeting Roger Keay and I gave Ted a report on the progress on a new digital standard for the industry. Ted decided we should get the leap on the competition by going with TDMA immediately. The real problem was that our analogue system was far too good and no one could see any reason to move to digital except for Cantel which liked the idea of lower costs. This challenge continues.
Despite all of the above, Cantel built a system that remains the envy of North America.