BCE Inc. holds a family of communications and media businesses operating across Canada, primarily under the Bell banner. These businesses together constitute Canada’s largest communications company and a major Canadian television, radio and digital media company:
Bell Mobility — National local and long distance wireless communications services.
Bell Internet — Digital subscriber line, fibre optic and wireless broadband high-speed Internet access services.
Bell Satellite TV — Direct-to-home satellite television services.
Bell Fibe TV — Internet Protocol (IP) television services.
Bell Home Phone — Local and long distance residential wireline communications services.
Bell Business Markets — Internet Protocol (IP) broadband communications services, information and communications technology services and managed services for business.
Bell Aliant — Voice and data services in the Atlantic Provinces and in rural areas of Quebec and Ontario, including FibreOP TV IP television services.
Bell Media — Television, radio and digital media broadcasting and production.
Q9 Networks (35.4% equity interest) — Outsourced data centre services including hosting, co-location and cloud computing.
These businesses are organized into four main segments: Bell Wireline, Bell Wireless, Bell Media and Bell Aliant.
With approximately 3.3 million customers, Bell is the largest Internet service provider in Canada. It is one of Canada's largest wireless operators, with more than eight million subscribers. Bell is Canada’s second-largest digital television provider through Bell Satellite TV, Bell Fibe TV and FibreOP TV, with services provided to approximately 2.6 million subscribers. In addition to Bell Aliant, Bell owns Northwestel, which provides telecommunications services to sparsely populated territories in Canada’s North.
Bell is expanding its broadband presence, accelerating the growth of its wireless services and building on its media offerings to offer Canadians a wide selection of information and entertainment content through the devices of their choice.
Bell is the largest local exchange carrier in Canada. The majority of the Company's access service lines are in urban areas of Ontario and Quebec. The Company was the sole local exchange carrier for much of the two provinces prior to the government-mandated introduction of competition into the local exchange market starting in 1998. It continues to be the largest local exchange carrier in these two provinces, and is also a competitive local exchange carrier in Alberta and British Columbia.
Wireline services are provided through a large optical fibre network, in which Bell is making major investments, and also provided through an extensive legacy copper wire network.
The optical fibre voice and data network provides high-speed access using IP technology. It connects all major Canadian metropolitan areas and extends to certain metropolitan areas in the United States, with international gateways to the rest of the world. IP virtual private network services link customers’ business offices and data centres across Canada and around the world. Through the network Bell also provides information and communications technology services including IP telephony, IP videoconferencing and IP call centre applications. Bell’s Canadian data centres provide small, medium-sized and large business customers with co-location, managed hosting and cloud computing services. Including its interest in Q9 Networks, Bell has a total of 25 high-capacity data centres across the country.
Bell is also a wholesale seller and buyer of data, local telephone, long distance and other services, doing business with telecommunications resellers and other telecommunications carriers.
For residential customers, Bell has been improving its fibre optic network by bringing fibre optic cabling closer to customers’ homes through its fibre-to-the-node technology. The Company has also been installing fibre optic cabling directly to new condominiums and other multi-family buildings in the Quebec-Windsor corridor, in Atlantic Canada and in several Northern Ontario communities through its fibre-to-the-building initiative. A new initiative, which was first rolled out in Quebec City, is Bell’s fibre-to-the-home technology, which connects every home with optical fibre cables to accommodate the most demanding high bandwidth IP services and applications.
Bell Fibe TV, an IP television service delivered over a high-speed fibre optic network, is Bell's alternative to traditional cable. It is available to more than five million households in major population centres in Québec and Ontario. Innovative features of the service include a wireless receiver which allows up to five additional televisions in a home to be hooked up without the use of interconnecting cables, the ability to record a number of programs simultaneously, and a picture-in-a-picture program guide. By the end of 2014, Bell Fibe TV's subscriber base exceeded 700,000.
At the same time, the Company’s long-established copper and voice-switching networks offer traditional local and long distance data services to all business and residential customers in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces.
Bell’s wireline business, with roots dating back well over a century, has longstanding relationships with residential customers, who bundle together the Company’s Internet and television offerings with landline telephone services in an attractive triple play. Likewise, long-term relationships with large corporate and public sector customers are the foundation on which the Company’s expanded information and communications technology services are being introduced.
Bell provides its wireless services through networks which collectively are available to almost the entire Canadian population.
Through a high-speed packet access plus network and 4G LTE wireless services in most Canadian urban areas, Bell’s wireless operations provide subscribers with mobile Internet data access speeds of typically 12 to 25 megabits per second (Mbps), on up to 75 Mbps. As a result of Bell's considerable investment in wireless infrastructure, network service extended to 86% of the Canadian population by the end of 2014.
The Company’s wireless HSPA+ network offers high-speed mobile access of up to 21 Mbps to 98% of the Canadian population in thousands of communities in both urban and rural areas. The HSPA+ Dual Cell technology enhancement, which increases data transfer speeds to as much as 42 Mbps, covers 70% of the Canadian population. The HSPA+ network can be used with numerous smartphones, data cards, USB keys, tablets and other mobile computing devices. Global roaming is supported within Canada and international roaming is supported in more than 220 countries including the United States, where Bell has an agreement with AT&T, the largest HSPA operator in the country.
Bell continues to operate its national 3G code division multiple access (CDMA) evolution, data optimized (EVDO) network. This network offers content including e-mail, video messaging, gaming, video conferencing, telematics and streaming entertainment.
In addition to Bell Mobility, Bell holds a partnership interest with Britain’s Virgin Group in Virgin Mobile Canada, a mobile virtual network providing voice and data services across Canada.
The Company provides its subscribers with one of the broadest offerings of smartphones in Canada as well as touch screen tablets and other devices supporting e-mail, messaging, Web browsing, gaming and social media. Through the Bell Mobile TV service, Bell Mobility customers can access news, sports and entertainment programming, including live sports broadcasts, from Bell Media and Bell’s content partners. Customers can also utilize mobile banking options.
As a further benefit to customers, Bell Mobility offers public network access at over 4,000 Wi-Fi hotspots at McDonald’s, Starbucks and Chapters / Indigo locations in Canada. Business customers can also access thousands of Wi-Fi networks managed by Bell Business Networks at the locations of its enterprise customers.
This Canada-wide broadcasting and programming business delivers television programming to Canadians through its over-the-air broadcasting station networks, CTV and CTV Two, and through third-party cable television businesses and other third-party broadcast distributors. Radio programming is delivered over-the-air from Bell Media-owned radio stations.
Bell Media owns 30 conventional television broadcasting stations, including the CTV television network, 106 radio broadcasting stations, and 35 specialty television channels, including the TSN and RDS sports channels. The CTV network ranks first among television networks in Canada based on viewership, while TSN and RDS are the most watched English language and French language specialty channels, respectively, in Canada. Aligned with these broadcasting and production assets on the Internet are numerous sites such as CTV.ca, TSN.ca, RDS.ca, MuchMusic.com, MTV.ca, TheComedyNetwork.ca and the Sympatico.ca portal. Bell Media also provides production and broadcast facilities for sports events and other types of events.
Bell Media leads the Canadian broadcasting industry in top 20 shows. Through partnerships with leaders in television content such as HBO and Showtime, Bell Media delivers highly-rated television to its customers.
In late 2014 Bell Media introduced CraveTV, a subscription-based on-demand video streaming service which can be added to TV subscriptions and offers a large collection of premium content. With a large selection from television and movie libraries, CraveTV includes some of the most popular television shows and series of all time.
Through Astral Out-of-Home, the business owns an out-of-home advertising network with more than 9,500 advertising faces in markets in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Advertising faces are divided between outdoor, street furniture, transportation and digital advertising.
Bell Media and Rogers Communications Inc. have partnered to hold a 75% interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Canada’s largest sports and entertainment company. Through this arrangement Bell Media and Rogers have television, mobile, digital online and radio broadcast rights to the company’s teams, namely the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Marlies and Toronto FC.
Bell Aliant and its predecessors were the sole local exchange carriers in much of Atlantic Canada and in certain less-populated regions of Quebec and Ontario prior to the introduction of local exchange market competition.
Throughout its territories Bell Aliant provides local and long distance voice, data and Internet, managed networks, and IP television (FibreOP TV), among other services. Cellular, paging and mobile radio services are provided in certain areas of Bell Aliant’s Quebec and Ontario territories.
Since 2010, Bell Aliant has been deploying fibre-based broadband Internet services for homes and businesses in locations in Atlantic Canada and in a number of communities in northern Ontario.
Throughout Bell’s businesses, existing and potential residential customers can easily acquire products and services and access their accounts. Bell stores, Bell Mobility locations and Virgin Mobile Canada kiosks are located across the country. The Company owns a national chain of approximately 700 mall-based retail stores under the banner The Source. Electronics retailers under a number of nationwide banners also offer the Company’s services to consumers. In addition to this extensive storefront coverage, consumers can access services through Bell’s significant call centre organization and online through its web portals bell.ca and virginmobile.ca.
For residential customers, the Bell Bundle combines wireline-based local voice and long distance services, high-speed Internet services, television services, and wireless services. Wireless customers are offered a wide selection of advanced wireless devices, some of which are exclusive to the Company.
Bell’s small, medium-sized and large business customers obtain services through its call centres and a dedicated sales force, and through a select group of value-added resellers (VARs). Business bundle offerings combine products and services with professional services to provide business customers with fully-managed, comprehensive information and technology solutions.
The Early Years
The earliest years of telephone services in Canada and the United States were closely associated with the telephone’s inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, from whom the Company takes its name. In Canada Bell’s invention was first rented to customers who constructed their own local private lines to link their different locations, or to link their locations to other telephone renters or to essential public services such as the local fire department.
In 1879 the telephone’s Canadian patent rights, which Bell had assigned to his father, Melville Bell, were sold to an American firm. In early 1880 this firm reorganized itself to become American Bell Telephone Company, a forerunner of AT&T. By 1899 American Bell would organize the Bell System of regional telephone companies in the United States.
During 1880 the Bell Telephone Company of Canada was incorporated under the direction of Charles Fleetford Sise, an American sent to Canada by American Bell to organize telephony in Canada and establish it as a viable means of communication alongside the well-established telegraph industry. Sise became Vice President and General Manager of The Bell Telephone Company of Canada and would fill the role of President from 1890 to 1915.
American Bell’s ownership interest in the Canadian company varied, for a time being a majority interest, but as a result of business acquisitions and company reorganizations at the Canadian company, by 1883 American Bell owned less than 50 per cent of its shares. As part of these reorganizations, the Canadian company acquired the telephone’s Canadian patent rights from American Bell, which remained a minority shareholder of the Canadian company until 1975.
The Bell Telephone Company of Canada’s first task was to acquire the many small local telephone services which had been established in Canada, including telephone services built by the two major telegraph companies in Canada. The Company then proceeded with the task of building telephone lines, initially local lines in major cities. The construction of long distance lines also became important because these would link the local telephone exchanges and unify the Company’s network. The Company’s first long distance line was set up between Toronto and Hamilton in 1881. Starting in 1891, extensive construction of long distance lines along railway rights-of-way took place in agreement with the railway companies.
During the 1880’s the Company constructed telephone lines in much of the country. By the end of that decade, the Company had sold its telephone operations in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to business interests there, and had ended its relationship with the business which had served as its agent in British Columbia. Likewise, during 1908 and 1909, the Company’s interests in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were sold to the governments of those provinces.
These sales gave the Company funds to develop and consolidate its territory in the more populous markets of Quebec and Ontario. The Company’s operations were concentrated in urban areas; in rural areas, large numbers of small, independent telephone companies were in operation, serving groups of farmers and other small rural user bases with local telephone services. The Company worked out arrangements to provide long distance connections to many of these independents.
In 1905 a committee was convened by Canadian federal parliament to examine telephone communications in the country. This recognition of the importance of the telephone in Canadian economic life led to the regulation of telephone companies by the Board of Railway Commissioners, forerunner to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Among the matters within the Board’s purview were the setting of rates, the determination of appropriate costs for the interconnection of systems of different telephone companies, and the establishment of technical standards for telephone systems.
The first long distance telephone connection between Montreal and Vancouver was made in 1916. The signal travelled along a route largely in the United States. In 1931 a wholly Canadian route came into being with the inauguration of the TransCanada Telephone System, an association consisting of the Company and other Canadian telephone and telegraph businesses. By this time transatlantic commercial telephone service between Canada and Great Britain had begun.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the Company suffered along with the rest of the country. In 1933, for the first time in the Company’s history, more of its telephone services were disconnected than were connected.
During the Second World War, when Canadians were frequently moving about the country for reasons of work or military service, there was an increasing need for telephone services to help people keep in touch. Since private telephones were still insufficient in number, the Company began setting up public telephones in telephone booths. As the War reached its conclusion, the Company installed its one millionth telephone, and the years following saw a remarkable demand for basic telephone services.
In 1953 the Company constructed a microwave radio-relay system to transmit television and telephone signals from Buffalo, New York to stations in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The system was approximately 650 kilometers in length and consisted of 15 microwave towers. It formed the first permanent television link between Canada and the United States. A 6,400 kilometer microwave network for telephone and television signals was completed across Canada in 1958.
Limited long distance dialing was introduced in 1956. This allowed the Company’s customers to place some long distance calls in Canada without operator assistance.
In 1961 the Company introduced its first wireless paging system, which provided users with an audible signal on their portable pagers whenever someone was trying to contact them, and then required them to make contact through a landline. The Company would grow to become Canada’s largest paging operator.
In 1964 the Company acquired Northern Electric & Manufacturing Company Limited, a telephone equipment manufacturer which had been incorporated in 1895. Northern Electric had had a long association with the Company: it had started as the telephone manufacturing department of the Company in 1882, had been incorporated separately from the Company in 1895, and AT&T in the United States had been a significant shareholder of both. Northern Electric would be renamed Northern Telecom Ltd. in 1976, by which time ownership would be in part held by the public through a stock exchange listing.
In the mid-1960’s Bell Canada established what would become known as Bell Canada International Management, Research and Consulting Ltd. This subsidiary offered Bell Canada’s expertise in telecommunications management and technical work to telecommunications carriers, manufacturers, contractors, consultants and the defence sector. Services were provided both domestically and to clients located all over the world.
In 1968 an Act of federal parliament changed the name of the Company from The Bell Telephone Company of Canada Ltd. to the now familiar Bell Canada.
During the 1970's telephone communications technology continued to advance. In 1973, Bell Canada and partners launched the first country-wide digital data transmission system, known as the Dataroute™. In 1977, using one of the world’s first packet-switched network for data communications, the Datapac™ network, Bell began providing data transmission using packet switching. That year Bell also began implementing digital switching technology, becoming the first company in North America to do so.
In 1978 Bell Canada introduced a revolutionary product from its affiliate Northern Telecom: a high-capacity fiber-optic system designed to transmit voice, data and video simultaneously. The technology was first demonstrated by the company that year by means of a video conferencing call between Toronto and London.
The telephone had long since become a necessity and was now becoming a commodity. Beginning in 1974 customers could select their own telephone from Bell Canada outlets and take it home to plug in to an existing jack, without the need for an installer to be present. From 1980 onward customers were given the right to attach telephones acquired anywhere to the Company’s network.
As a means of simplifying Bell Canada’s increasingly complicated corporate structure, in 1983 Bell Canada and the many businesses which it controlled were restructured as subsidiaries of a holding company named Bell Canada Enterprises Inc., later named BCE Inc. That same year the holding company ventured into the energy sector by acquiring a large interest in Canada’s leading pipeline transportation services company, TransCanada PipeLines Ltd.
BCE, through its Bell Cellular business, began operating a cellular network in 1985, initially in the Montreal area and in a wide region including Toronto. Telecommunications over cellular spectrum had been introduced by the federal government in 1982 and involved transmission and reception on certain radio frequency bands through base stations in a series of adjoining geographic areas named cells. Bell’s cellular business would grow from zero to a customer base of over a million by 1996.
Focus on Communications
During the 1990’s, BCE divested itself of most assets outside of the telecommunications sector. Its oil and gas, real estate, financial services and printing assets were sold. At the same time, BCE made major investments in its Canadian satellite, cellular and wireline telecommunications services businesses, and in related businesses such as information technology consulting and e-commerce. Outside of Canada, significant investments were made in international wireline transmission infrastructure and in telecommunications services in the United Kingdom, the United States, South America and Asia.
In 1997 BCE undertook its implementation of Personal Communications Service (PCS). PCS, the next step in the evolution of wireless telephony, combined voice, paging, messaging and data and operated on radio frequency bands 1850 MHz to 1990 MHz. BCE’s rollout of PCS services took place in its Ontario and Quebec territories.
In 1993 BCE had become a member of the IRIDIUM mobile communications satellite project, which in 1998 launched the world’s first global wireless communications network providing voice, data, facsimile and paging services via a network of 66 satellites. BCE became the operator and manager of IRIDIUM services in Canada.
In 1999 BCE acquired a controlling interest in the telephone companies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. These had shortly before been amalgamated under the name Aliant. Some years later Aliant’s Atlantic Canada assets were combined with Bell Canada’s wireline operations in rural Quebec and Ontario to form a business under the name Bell Aliant.
BCE exited the telecommunications equipment manufacturing business in 2000 by distributing the shares of Northern Telecom Ltd., by this time named Nortel Networks Corporation, to BCE shareholders.
During the 1990’s the Canadian federal government began changing its policies regarding competition in the telecommunications industry and the separation of the telecommunications and broadcast industries. These changes were made so as to encourage competition, and to allow telecommunications businesses to compete in the broadcasting industry and vice versa. In 1993 long distance telephone services were opened to competition in Bell Canada’s territories, and, as 1998 began, Bell Canada began facing competition in its local exchange market as well.
The convergence of the telecommunications and broadcasting markets was made possible by the rapid adoption of the Internet by users of digital devices, initially desktop computers, during the 1990’s. Bell Canada and a number of other affiliated Canadian telecommunications companies provided the Sympatico Internet service, a portal through which their Internet subscribers could access the entire Internet, including Sympatico’s own online content, and services such as Sympatico e-mail accounts and Sympatico’s discussion forums. These services were provided through a coast-to-coast broadband fibre optics network which Bell Canada had established during that period.
In the Internet’s early days subscribers connected to it primarily through relatively slow dial-up modems. During the late 1990’s BCE and other telecommunications companies were rolling out high speed (broadband) Internet services, initially to business customers, but from the turn of the millennium to consumers also. The high capacity of broadband allowed BCE to deliver a full suite of information, communications and entertainment services to Canadians through the Internet.
At the beginning of 2001, BCE and other equity investors created Bell Globemedia Inc., a multimedia company engaged in television broadcasting and programming and specialty television operations through CTV Inc., in news publishing through The Globe and Mail, and in the production and hosting of online content through what became known as Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. BCE was the majority shareholder of the new company. BCE had acquired CTV the previous year as part of an expansion into broadcasting and contributed it to the new company.
During 2006 BCE reduced its interest in Bell Globemedia Inc. to 15% as additional equity investors acquired interests in the latter. While no longer controlling shareholder, BCE maintained its interest in recognition of Bell Globemedia’s importance as a provider of content, which was an ongoing imperative in BCE’s convergence model.
In April 2011 BCE acquired the remaining 85% interest in CTV Inc. which it didn’t already hold. CTV was a significant presence in the Canadian conventional television broadcasting, specialty television and digital media industries. The CTV acquisition was combined with BCE’s existing media holdings to form what thereby became known as Bell Media.
In July 2013 the broadcasting side of BCE's business was again greatly extended through the acquisition of assets from Astral Media, a major Canadian television and radio broadcasting enterprise anchored in the Quebec market. Acquired assets included radio stations and specialty television channels.
During 2014, Bell Canada and Bell Aliant made more than $20 million in contributions in support of community-focused initiatives. During the year Bell Canada and Bell Aliant employees and pensioners made more than $2.1 million in charitable contributions and donated over 337,000 hours of volunteer time.
Bell’s primary community-strengthening activity is its Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative. In recognition of the serious effects of mental health issues in communities and workplaces, in September 2010 Bell announced this five-year, $50 million initiative to support numerous programs addressing mental health in all areas of Canadian life. The initiative targets four areas for support: dealing with stigmas regarding mental health, enhancing care and access, supporting new research, and developing workplace leadership on mental health issues.
During 2014 Bell made new commitments under the Bell Let's Talk initiative. Commitments were made to hospitals, foundations and educational institutions. $2.5 million was given to Kids Help Phone to implement new technology initiatives. The Bell Let's Talk Community Fund provided $1 million in grants to 58 community-based organizations, charities and hospitals across Canada. Through the Fund, organizations, social services, agencies and hospitals can apply for grants up to $50,000 for community-based mental health projects.
In March 2014, Olympic champion and Bell spokesperson Clara Hughes undertook Clara's Big Ride for Mental Health. This 11,000-kilometer, 110-day bicycle tour visited communities around the country as it sought to overcome the stigma over open discussion about mental health. The Big Ride was financially supported by Bell and other major corporate sponsors, while schools, youth organizations and community groups planned events around the visits to their communities.
Bell Let's Talk Day is a related initiative which sees Bell donate five cents for every tweet, Facebook share, and mobile and long distance call and text message during the day. During Bell Let's Talk Day on January 28, 2015 a total of $6,107,538.60 in Canadian mental health funding was donated as a result of the record-breaking response of people across North America to the event.