Innovation is in Bell’s DNA

The five pillar sponsors of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal address a range of issues that are contributing to the city’s economic momentum.

This interview was conducted with Pierre Rodrigue, Vice-President, Québec Affairs at Bell.

CCMM – How has Bell contributed to innovation – a harbinger for the city’s economic development – in recent years?

Pierre Rodrigue (P. R.): One of Bell’s most recent projects is the enormous deployment of fibre optics in the metropolitan area. This investment of over $850 million will create 2,700 jobs and generate economic spinoffs of over $2 billion.

More than a million Montréal businesses and households will have access to an ultra-modern network and contribute directly to the economy, both now and in the future. We are setting up what could be called “the backbone of Montréal’s digital economy,” which means the entire infrastructure for developing a smart city built in part for the Internet of Things, for artificial intelligence and for the video game industry.

Bell also supports innovation by buying goods and services worth over $2 billion from Québec partners every year. All these different-sized businesses will help us respond to specific requests as we deploy our networks. We constantly encourage them to innovate, develop new techniques, think outside the box and seek expertise outside Montréal, across Canada or abroad.

Three examples come to mind.

  • TRJ Télécom: This company, which specializes in deploying, upgrading and maintaining Montréal’s telecommunications network, had to create an aero-excavation tool for us to deploy fibre optics faster. Today it is collaborating on our fibre optic project in Toronto.
  • AddEnergie: This Québec City company, with operations in Montréal, manufactures charging solutions for electric vehicles. We were one of its first major customers in Québec, and it went on to install charging stations in our Ontario facilities.
  • OtoData: This Montréal partner focuses on the Internet of Things; it supplies thousands of tank sensors which, when deployed with Bell’s mobile network, will provide a management tool for Superior Propane to resupply its customers in real time, all while reducing operating costs.

Bell’s head office and other facilities in Greater Montréal are home to most of the 14,000 members of the Bell team in Québec. That makes us sensitive to the local digital ecosystem in which we live; for example, we pay careful attention to the needs of our Montréal partners in the video game and artificial intelligence industries.

CCMM – In terms of innovation, what strengths enable the city to maintain its economic momentum and remain competitive?

P. R.: I am a Montrealer, and when I travel I realize how distinctive our global offer is.

It is unusual for a city Montréal’s size to have so many universities. They give the city a youthful energy and make it a hub for young people aged 18 to 25 from Québec and around the world.

Montréal is also a diverse city, with bilingualism in its DNA. The fact that we speak both French AND English fluently sets us apart from other cities in North America, Europe and around the world.

It bears repeating: Montréal offers a unique quality of life and incredible cultural and leisure diversity. What other large city lets you enjoy urban fishing? You can in Montréal, because it’s an island!

Nor should we forget our leading-edge telecommunications infrastructure, which allows Montréal businesses to access all of the world’s networks at actual speed.

CCMM – How did innovation at Bell transform a business model?

P. R.: We often forget that Bell was formed 140 years ago from an invention: the telephone. Bell had to innovate right from its first sale, which involved a second sale, because you couldn’t communicate with a single phone; you needed two.

Bell’s first challenges had to do with patents as well as financing, because an entire network had to be built. The same challenges exist today, although the networks are different. Landlines now account for 8% of our income, while 85% derives from wireless, media, TV and broadband Internet. Companies have no choice but to listen to their customers and keep transforming and reinventing themselves. For the past 10 years we have been investing in networks to develop the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. In the coming years we will continue to deploy relevant solutions for the security and robustness of these networks.

Innovation also depends on the major global solution providers who are happy to partner with us because we are the company that invests more in its networks than any other in Canada. Bell is a large company for Canada, but a small one on the international stage, compared with large Indian, U.K., German and Chinese telecommunications companies. That said, Bell’s status as a leader in Canada lets us establish partnerships with major innovators around the world.

CCMM – How does Bell help Montréal companies grow through innovation?

P. R.: Beyond the fact that our networks give companies the ability to achieve their goals, we can’t forget that we are at the centre of an innovation ecosystem. We encourage our suppliers to innovate so that they can deliver the services our customers need. Our suppliers become our partners.

We often hear about the strength and agility of startups, but we tend to forget that they too have their limitations. In addition to facing financial challenges, startups don’t always have the capacity to deploy their solutions on a large scale to meet customers’ needs. Buyers may also worry that those companies will disappear in a few years due to their economic vulnerability.

That’s where we come in, because Bell works both as a supplier to the customer and a buyer of a startup’s products or solutions. Bell’s presence is generally reassuring for both parties, who can rely not only on the company’s resources and expertise but also on its financial strength and sustainability. That way, Bell can find small businesses among its suppliers that have developed innovative technology to respond to the customers’ needs and help them with deployment.

We can help close the gap between the drawing board and the application; between imagining a solution, bringing an invention to fruition and deploying it on a large scale with the help of a field team, in an outdoor environment that can be hostile, with temperatures ranging from -40o to +40o Celsius.

Through its innovation-based growth strategy, Bell is proud to contribute to the economic development of the city.

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