By Steve Faguy
MONTREAL – It's not flying cars and holographic displays (at least not yet), but Rogers Communications CEO Nadir Mohamed set a more attainable, near-term vision for a technological future in a speech to the Canadian Club in Montreal on Monday. It's a vision in which mobile service providers like Rogers play a key role.
Mohamed (pictured below) laid out three technological innovations during a 20-minute speech, in which he noted how odd it was that he was standing in front of a large Bell logo (Bell is the principal sponsor of the Canadian Club's CEO speech program):
1. Digital wallets
"There is no question in my mind, five years from now, every single person in this room will have a virtual wallet," Mohamed told the gathering of business people.
He pointed to a deal between Rogers and CIBC to establish a commercial mobile payment system, already widely used overseas, in which consumers use mobile devices with near-field communication chips instead of credit cards. "It may start with a few," he said, "but ultimately it becomes pervasive."
He said later that, while upgrading point-of-sale machines by retailers would take time, "from a technical point of view, all of the ingredients are there" for payments using mobile wallets.
2. Seamless mobile video
Pointing out that by 2015 about two thirds of mobile data traffic will be video, Mohamed said he believes strongly that vertically integrated companies must share content with each other.
Referencing last week's CRTC hearing, in which Rogers voiced opposition to the BCE purchase of Astral Media because of the high price Bell puts on its content, Mohamed said that "as somebody who has content, the best way for you to actually make something out of that content is to have every single Canadian have the potential to take advantage of the content."
A similar statement was made by BCE's CEO during the hearing, come to think of it.
3. Machine-to-machine communication
From smart meters to remote diagnosis to tracking drivers or ski students, Mohamed said automatic communication of data between devices is about to expand significantly. "It's not a few years out, it's happening today," he said. "M2M is the future and at Rogers, I can assure you, we're betting big on M2M."
He said Canada has 350 million devices - 10 for every person - that can be connected wirelessly, and that the M2M market will grow to more than $400 million in network revenue for the industry by 2015.
Mohamed also offered his take on the ongoing battle between Bell and its competitors over carriage rights. "To me the idea of exclusives, restricting content and making rules that actually make it cumbersome are rules that belong to a world that does not exist as we go forward," he said. "Every Canadian has the right to have open access to content. And to me, that's the underpinning that should decide how this proceeding should unfold."
He said he hoped the CRTC's eventual decision would be consumer-friendly.
Mohamed wouldn't speculate on Rogers buying radio or television assets that might have to be sold if the Bell-Astral purchase goes through.
He also wouldn't comment on the ever-pervasive rumours about taking a bigger or even controlling stake in Cogeco Cable. "Every time I answer that question, frankly, we get in trouble in terms of people speculating," he said. Plus, with the Audet family owning controlling interest of Cogeco, nothing will happen until they decide it's time.
Asked by reporters what he thought of comments last week by the chief content officer for Netflix that Canada's bandwidth caps are "almost a human rights violation" and that Canada has "almost third-world access to the Internet,” Mohamed was surprised, saying he hadn't heard of the remarks and he laughed off the suggestion.
Photo by Steve Faguy