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Big telcos offer bonus-data deals but 3 provinces get better bargains

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The holiday season has sparked another round of wireless wars: Rogers, Bell and Telus are all offering double the data (or more) on select mobile plans across the country.

But not all customers are thrilled because of glaring regional price differences: the best bonus-data deals by far are in Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — provinces which typically see better wireless plan prices.

“It’s pretty unfair,” said Matthew Warren, of Lansdowne, Ont., who signed up in August for a Rogers plan with 2 gigabytes (GB) of data for $75 a month.

For the same price, customers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba right now can get plans with 20 or 22 GB of data from the big three telcos.

Customers in those provinces can also score a plan with 30 or 31 GB for $85 a month, while in most of the rest of Canada $80-$85 will currently buy a monthly plan from the big three with just 5 GB of data — and that’s the bonus plan.

Rogers wireless deals in Saskatchwan are offering double the data (or more) on these plans for a limited time. (Rogers)

The exception is Quebec where the big three telcos are offering big bargains such as a monthly mobile plan with 12 GB for $64 a month.

The special offers are for a limited time, don’t include a phone and only apply to people activating new accounts or upgrading their device.

All the deals CBC News compared included unlimited Canada-wide calling.

Lots of local deals

When asked about provincial price differences, the big three said they offer various competitive promotions in different regions, especially during the holidays.

Telus also said competition and network costs are a factor in pricing.

“In every market our plans are priced to balance the highly competitive nature of the telecom sector against the significant investment required to build and maintain” our networks, spokesperson Page Casmiro said in an email to CBC News.

The provincial price differences never fail to upset some customers, especially after the CRTC — Canada’s telecom regulator — instructed Bell, Rogers and Telus to offer national low-cost data-only plans.

Unveiled this week, the data-only deals include 1 GB on the high-speed network for between $28 and $30 a month with the big three’s discount brands Virgin Mobile (Bell), Fido (Rogers) and Koodo (Telus). Fido’s plan includes unlimited texting.

Meanwhile, residents in Quebec can get a better deal with a current promotion from the same discount brands: a phone plan with 3 GB — three times the data — plus unlimited Canada-wide calling for just $35 a month.

A Koodo ad promoting a phone deal with 3 GB of data for $35 a month for Quebec residents only. (Koodo)

“It’s pretty ridiculous,” said cellular customer Karanvir Singh Thiara, of Surrey B.C.

“The fact that they’re able to give that right now in Quebec — that’s what the CRTC should mandate across Canada.”

Bell and Rogers pointed out that the Quebec deal is a limited-time promotion, whereas the new low-cost data-only plans are part of the regular offering. 

Competitive prices

Mobile customer Warren, of Lansdowne, is also perturbed by the provincial price differences, especially considering Ontario has the biggest population in Canada.

“The customers are in greater numbers there, so they should have the same access to good deals,” said the 16-year-old, who shares the cost of his plan with his mom.

Following an investigation, Canada’s Competition Bureau concluded in 2017 that wireless pricing in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec “is substantially lower than in the rest of Canada” due to the presence of a strong regional competitor in each of those markets.

The competitors at the time were Vidéotron in Quebec, Sasktel and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS). Since that time, Bell has taken over MTS.

But tech expert Daniel Bader says MTS was a strong regional player that has left a legacy of competitive pricing.

“This is what consumers expect in Manitoba — as well as Saskatchewan and Quebec — and they won’t stand for anything less.”

In other provinces, customers are more accustomed to higher prices, said Bader, a managing editor with tech site Mobile Nations.

Low-cost competitor Freedom Mobile, which rebranded in 2016 from what was Wind Mobile, did prompt Rogers, Bell and Telus to offer a $60 10 GB monthly plan in December 2017 in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. However, that deal was short-lived.

Do we may too much?

Consumer advocacy group Open Media argues provincial price differences show that the federal government has to foster more competition to help drive down prices nationwide.

“The only true solution to this is to bring more players in the marketplace,” said executive director Laura Tribe.

A new price-comparison study commissioned by the government found that although domestic mobile plan prices generally decreased this year compared to 2017, those prices are still often higher than plans in other G7 countries and Australia. 

A new federal government report says that Canadians continue to pay some of the highest mobile plan prices in the industrialized world. (CBC)

When comparing major Canadian cities, the study also found that average mobile plan prices were generally lowest in Winnipeg, Montreal and Regina.

However, a new counter-report funded by Telus claims the annual government-commissioned study uses flawed methodology because it doesn’t factor in variables such as promotions, contract terms and population density.

When those variables are taken into account, the counter-report said, Canadians generally pay cheaper prices than what the same plan would cost in other industrialized countries.

It also found that, overall, there wasn’t much difference in regional pricing in Canada.

“The [Canadian telecom] markets under study are competitive and hence do not require regulatory intervention,” concluded the report by research firm NERA Economic Consulting.

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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