Few of the hundreds of thousands of people who ride the Toronto subway daily can use their cellphones in the tunnel, and the company that installed the cellular infrastructure wants them to start kicking up a fuss about it.
When BAI Communications Canada won a 20-year contract in 2012 to install the hardware needed to use a cellphone in Toronto Transit Commission tunnels, they were hoping the major carriers would sign on. That hasn’t worked out.
In the nearly seven years since the company won the contract, only the relatively small Freedom Mobile has agreed to come on board, in 2015. The other carriers, which have the vast bulk of the market, have kept their distance, in some cases arguing that they would have preferred to install their own hardware.
The result has been a protracted impasse that BAI is now hoping to break. BAI said there are not currently any meaningful talks with the major carriers.
The company is starting an ad campaign on Monday aimed at persuading subway riders to raise this issue with their carriers. The campaign, which is expected to run initially for six weeks and is budgeted at around $200,000, will appear in stations and trains and also have a social-media component.
“We built a platform that can host any company with licensed spectrum,” said Ken Ranger, chief executive of BAI. “It’s time to ensure that public knows that the option is there for coverage.”
There is little sign, though, the other providers are willing to budge.
A statement from Telus contained identical language used with The Globe and Mail last year, saying the company “continuously” looks for ways to offer better network access, but that there are “no concrete plans” to add Toronto subway service.
The other major carriers also seemed quick to pour cold water on the possibility of the situation changing.
“Canadian wireless providers including Bell look forward to building out the wireless infrastructure required to serve customers on the Toronto subway system but have been denied access to do so,” Bell spokesman Nathan Gibson said in an e-mail.
Both Bell and Rogers pointed to Montreal’s transit as a better model. In that city, the companies said, carriers teamed up to install the infrastructure in the subway. That doesn’t appear possible in Toronto, though, where BAI won an exclusive contract put forward by the TTC, paying $25-million for the right to build the network.
Although people can use their phones freely in the many above-ground sections of the lines – including the long crossing of the Don River that allows quick typers time to fire off a few texts or e-mails – most of the tunnels do not have cellular service. This is restricted to the stations, the downtown U of the Yonge line and the extension to Vaughan. But only Freedom customers can access it in those places.
While the stations have Wi-Fi, also provided by BAI and available to all, the trains do not.
BAI points to surveying it has done that suggests most people would like to be able to use their phones more freely in the subway. Bringing the other carriers on board would also be a revenue boost for BAI, although the company says the ad push is not about salvaging a deal that proved less lucrative than expected.
“We take a very long-term view for these things,” Mr. Ranger said. “We have a plan and we’re executing on it and we’re satisfied with our performance to date.”