System transition delays wireless bills three months Inaccurate and chaotic telco billing has plagued corporate users for decades, and many promises to clean up the billing process have come to naught. So it wasn’t a total surprise when Bell Canada’s current effort to unify wireless and wireline bills led last fall to a major snafu. Bell Mobility customers, including enterprises with hundreds of users, didn’t receive bills for three months, and were then billed for four months in a single invoice. The impact on corporate users was huge. Quarterly expense tracking and budgeting was derailed; Accounts Payable departments protested; individual employees called Bell to complain. So many users called in that the cellco’s call centers seized up under the strain. Bell Mobility President Michael Neuman acknowledged the problem in a letter to all customers in December. "We are working hard to complete this transition as quickly as possible," the letter stated. "While it has not affected your wireless phone service, we have had issues with the billing system that have impacted many customers. In particular, you may not have received bills for some months and then received several all at once. It is also likely that you faced significant delays in getting through to our call centres if you called us for any reason." Bell Mobility Explains Although Bell declined to grant Telemanagement an interview on this problem, it gave written answer to our questions, stating: "Bell Mobility is making steady progress in its billing system transformation. Over the past several weeks, bills, pre-authorized credit cards, and bank debit have been released on schedule. Any questions that customers may have are answered on a case-by-case basis." Bell places the problem in a larger context: "The Bell Mobility billing system transformation, one of the largest IS/IT transformations of its kind in North America, is part of a wider strategy across Bell Canada to place the company’s overall billing system on a single platform. This new platform, once completed, will allow Bell Canada to integrate its portfolio of products and services in one bill and offer a heightened level of customer care across the organization." Bell Mobility is issuing bills again, but the effects of the breakdown will linger. Telemanagement Consulting Editor Ian Angus explains that once a customer has experienced an inaccurate or long-delayed bill, it is difficult for the carrier to regain their confidence. "It’s not simply a matter of getting the billing right. It’s also a matter of winning back customer confidence that the billing can be trusted," Angus says. The Bell Mobility breakdown arose from a massive retooling of its billing system across many of BCE’s business units, undertaken in partnership with AmDocs, a U.S.-based billing specialist. Glowing promises were made (see Telemanagement #206). In Angus’s view, it was unrealistic for the company to believe it could reinvent its billing system without experiencing a major glitch. "This was a giant project to completely redo the billing of all Bell companies all at once. But anybody who has worked to develop software will tell you that’s the kind of project that has problems," Angus says. Lessons Learned Angus recommends that enterprise customers take nothing for granted when they receive their cellular phone bills. Often, wireless bills are automatically sent to accounts payable without any verification. "If you don’t have a system in place for checking and making sure that cellular bills are accurate, you could be way, way overpaying," Angus says. Carriers can also learn from Bell’s experience: make sure integrated billing works before saying it does. Call-Net Enterprises and Rogers Wireless could learn a lot from Bell’s problems as they move to integrate the operations of recently acquired firms. Call-Net’s absorption of 360networks should be manageable because 360networks was relatively small, but Rogers’ integration of the former Microcell billing systems could prove a daunting task. Angus suggests that phone company billing can’t be solved simply by putting Mitel Leads in PBX Systems Shipped  PBX market study is not an exact science, and results vary widely depending on what you measure and on survey methods. Even so, NBI/Michael Sone’s report on PBX system shipments in Canada last year is striking: In a market long dominated by Nortel, the four leading contenders show up as tightly bunched, with Mitel Networks in the lead. With key systems excluded, market share of 3,000 systems shipped was:Mitel27%Nortel19%Avaya18%Cisco 17%Others19%The survey method favours Mitel, a specialist in small PBXs. Sone’s count of stations shipped yields a much different result. For the full report, contact mailto:email@example.com, 416-360-0424. software programmers on it. "I would say that messing with billing is one of the most dangerous things you can do for customer relations. For most of your customers, the bill is the only contact that they have other than getting the service. "Be extraordinarily cautious and certainly don’t introduce new systems into the customer market stream until you have actually tested them every possible way," Angus says.  Rogers Leashes FidoRogers Wireless Inc., owner of Fido, has shortened the leash on its CityFido home phone replacement program. The country’s largest wireless phone company has paired down local calling regions to much smaller sizes, focusing only on urban areas. But even more dramatic are the out-of-zone calling prices Rogers has instituted: 50¢ per minute up. It has also applied usage limits, with a 30¢ charge for excess minutes. Complete details of a newly muzzled CityFido won’t be available until March 1. Nortel Begins Filing ResultsOn January 11, Nortel Networks Corp. reported that earnings for fiscal 2003 that were substantially lower than those originally reported. Refiled statements reduced the previously reported US$732 million profit to $434 million. Nortel also noted in the financial update that 12 senior executives have agreed to return $8.6 million in profitability bonuses as "a matter of corporate leadership and integrity." The company appointed Susan Shepard as Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. Nortel also cleaned house at the board level, announcing that five directors, including Chairman Red Wilson, were leaving. Vidéotron Leads Cablecos into VoIPVidéotron Ltée. became the first major cableco to offer Internet-based telephony January 24, offering local service to 300,000 residents of Montreal’s South Shore. Price of a basic residential line: $15.95. Vidéotron aims to expand the service across its territory of 2.5 million people by year-end. Other cablecos are hot on its heels. Shaw projects service in Edmonton within weeks; Cogeco and Rogers promise a rollout by July. (Halifax-based EastLink has been offering circuit-switched telephony for several years.) Several smaller players have been knocking on doors for some time already (see Telemanagement #218), and Primus Canada’s TalkBroadband service celebrates its first anniversary this month. Vonage, which claims nearly 400,000 subscribers in the United States, is stepping up marketing in Canada. To bolster its Canadian offering, Vonage recently cut the price of its premium plan to $39.99 from $45.99. Credible subscriber figures aren’t yet available for Canada’s VoIP players, but some estimates peg the total number of VoIP subscribers in Canada at the end of last year at about 25,000. Shaw to Use Nortel Multimedia Software Shaw Cablesystems has adopted Nortel Networks’ Multimedia Communications Server 5200 to offer residential broadband customers voice, video, and instant messaging applications. Shaw says that the MCS 5200 will make it the first cable operator in Canada to offer Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based multimedia services. Spectrum Auction Finds TakersIndustry Canada’s January auction of unassigned spectrum in the 2300 MHz and 3500 MHz bands sparked a flurry of activity during the first two weeks of bidding. Bidders have been significantly more aggressive than when the department first offered these frequencies for sale last February, and this bodes well for bringing broadband connectivity to a broader range of Canadian businesses and consumers. Technological developments in WiMAX have helped increase the perceived value of these frequencies. Smaller and unknown players, such as 4253311 Canada, YourLink, and Yamatech Group have put up stiff competition to the Big Three—Bell Canada, Telus Mobility, and Rogers Wireless. With the bidding near its close, standing high bids on January 27 totaled about $55 million, with Bell leading the way: Total of Bids ($million)# of LicencesBell Canada$34.5 55 Telus$8.8 1294253311 Canada$7.6 25Rogers Wireless$4.8 40 Aliant Expands Broadband Network Aliant Telecom has completed a $26-millionexpansion of its Slinking Back to Bell  I put in a Bell Canada local line last month. It was an admission of defeat.To begin with, I was boldly determined to have a new-age VoIP phone, and started calling suppliers. At the first supplier, there was only one person who knew about VoIP, and I was asked to leave a message so he could call me back. Too small, I thought, and moved on. At the second, I became entangled in the Interactive Voice Response and zeroed out. "Goodbye," the system said, and hung up. Too vindictive, I thought, and moved on. At the third, I installed the phone with no complications. But there were problems: dropped calls; outgoing calls that hit a busy signal when the line was free; less-than-perfect call quality. I called tech support and was told I’d have to wait in queue 20 minutes. Then, after eight minutes, the line went dead. The next day I lost dialtone. I called tech support and was told I’d have to wait 30 minutes. They answered after only 23 minutes and told me the entire system was down. It came up again in a couple hours. But I’d had enough, and I ran to Mother Bell, sadder but wiser. Voice over IP is a technology with a great future, but for business use it’s not trouble free—at least, not yet. —John Riddellbroadband network, which brings high-speed Internet connectivity to nearly three-quarters of homes in Atlantic Canada. The telco also reports an investment of more than $50 million in wireless network infrastructure in Newfoundland and Labrador. That investment will help bring broadband services to more than 75% of the province’s population. Aliant is also working with the Newfoundland and Labrador IT industry association NATI and the provincial government in a $1.5-million development initiative, dubbed Nearshore Atlantic, which is designed to bring new IT work to the province. Telus Mobility Adds Consumer Push-to-TalkThe wireless arm of Telus Corp. has tightened its grip on Canada’s Push-To-Talk (PTT) market by introducing Instant Talk, a new walkie talkie-like service offered over its PCS network. In offering this consumer-oriented PTT service, Telus Mobility beat out archrival Bell Mobility, which had previously indicated it would enter the market in 2004. Canada’s other national wireless operator Rogers Wireless Inc. has yet to announce plans to offer PTT services. Telus Mobility business customers will benefit from the company’s promised extension of Mike PTT services into Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru by March. In BriefToronto’s high-rolling users of BlackBerry e-mailers were shocked last month to learn that the messages they consider private probably aren’t. A suit by CIBC against former employees contained copies of many BlackBerry messages sent through the bank’s network and stored by its servers. The National Centrex Users Group is changing its name to the International Telecommunication Professionals Exchange (ITPX). The association is expanding its scope to include non-Centrex telecom services. The association’s annual conference takes place March 20-23 in Las Vegas. Navigata Communications Inc., a SaskTel company, is partnering with VCom Inc., a wireless equipment maker based in Saskatoon, to deploy a WiMAX-based broadband wireless network covering the entire municipality of Kamloops, B.C. But this is not for tomorrow. WiMAX chipsets are only now being shipped, so equipment won’t be available until late this year.