Toronto Hydro Telecom Launches WiFi Service

This is really part 1, and will be quite short. This afternoon I spoke with Catherine McLean of the Globe & Mail about today's launch. I've written about Toronto Hydro Telecom's WiFi initiative before, but was not in the loop for the news today. That said, I don't feel alone, as I've seen no sign of this story on the blogs, nor has the news been posted on their website.

In short, Toronto Hydro Telecom launched their WiFi service today, along with their much anticipated pricing. You can subscribe to it as a service for $29 a month, which is about $10 cheaper than the standard high speed offerings from our incumbents, Bell and Rogers. For travelers and surfers who just need their fix on demand, you can buy access for short terms, much like you would at any WiFi hotspot. I don't have the numbers on this, but I should have them tomorrow.

Right now, the service is free, and is available throughout most of the downtown Toronto core. During this honeymoon, I would expect the service to be pretty popular, but the big challenge comes when it reverts to a paid service.

There are so many questions here, and I'll just raise a few of them now. I don't know how the billing will be done, especially for the on demand services. Will they add this to your Hydro bill? Or will Toronto Hydro Telecom do their own billing? Or will they just use a credit card? Being a utility, are they now going to engage in expensive marketing/advertisting/branding to compete head on with Rogers and Bell for subscribers? And are they now going to be competing against those offering paid WiFi in hotspots? Can they really be a viable paid service just offering broadband access - without any cool content or apps? For those who want to be regular subscribers, they'll typically need a wireless router to access the signal indoors. How will this be supported? And finally, with the launch being delayed a few months, the free trial starts after the warm weather is over. This will likely be a drag on usage, as WiFi works best in outdoor spaces. In downtown Toronto, once you go indoors, it's not too hard to get broadband access, as people are typically at home or at work. Once the cold weather comes, I don't see too many people using this service. I'm sure they would have rather seen the launch take place earlier in the summer.

Today's news and these questions take me back my post last week about Fredericton's free WiFi service, which brought out a lot of important issues for this emerging space. Reading it again makes me wonder about what Toronto Hydro Telecom is getting into here. I think it's great that they're offering WiFi, but I'm concerned about the viability and their vision about what line of business they are really in.

I hope to have more on this tomorrow, but at least you've heard it here first.

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