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Cable Tech

Cable's 'stable,' but could do better, new Rogers CEO says

Rogers Communications' cable business stabilized with flat revenues in the fourth quarter of 2021. But recently installed President and CEO Tony Staffieri says that's not good enough as Rogers plows ahead with its proposed merger with fellow Canadian operator Shaw Communications.

"In our cable business, our results were stable, despite the ongoing impacts of the pandemic," Staffieri said Thursday on Rogers' Q4 2021 earnings call. "We're not satisfied with the performance in this area."

Prior to Rogers' eventual integration with Shaw (Staffieri believes the deal is on track for a Q2 close), the company is aiming to boost revenues and profitability at its cable division using a recently formed Home & Business division led by former Quebecor and Videotron CEO Robert Dépatie.

It's a big role covering Rogers' residential broadband, video and smart home services; commercial services for the small, midsized and enterprise business markets; and customer service across both wireless and wireline.

That came together soon after Rogers Communications endured a multi-week boardroom and Rogers family drama that eventually led to a reinstatement of Edward Rogers as chairman and the removal of former CEO Joe Natale.

Staffieri, a former CFO at Rogers who stepped down last September amid the drama only to come back once the dust settled, was named interim president and CEO in November 2021. The interim label was removed earlier this month.

Financial snapshot

Rogers pulled in consolidated Q4 revenues of C$3.91 billion ($3.06 billion), up 6% year-over-year. Cable revenues of C$1.02 billion ($800 million) were flat. Wireless revenues, aided by the addition of 141,000 postpaid subs, rose 6%, to C$1.73 billion ($1.35 billion).

Rogers managed to add 14,000 broadband subs, for a total of 2.66 million. It also added 56,000 Ignite TV customers, for a total of 788,000. Ignite TV, a service that is powered by Rogers' X1 syndication deal with Comcast, helped to offset losses from Rogers' legacy pay-TV service.

"We can and will do better in this segment," Staffieri said of Rogers' cable division. "And by improving performance now, our organization will be able to better capitalize on the broader national opportunities that the Shaw transaction will provide."

Role for fixed wireless about to expand

Staffieri also dug into Rogers' strategic priorities for the year, which include an ongoing expansion of fixed wireless service, targeted FTTP buildouts, and plans to pursue upgrades its hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) network to DOCSIS 4.0 to support multi-gigabit speeds. Rogers, he added, is largely riding Comcast's advanced technology roadmap.

Rogers is also preparing to get more aggressive with its fixed wireless access (FWA) home broadband service. Staffieri said Rogers is making it available across its footprint, with sales activity slated to ramp up this quarter and into Q2 2022.

For now, Rogers will use FWA to reach "fringes, or rural areas of our cable network where we operate today," he added.

"It is largely a rural play for us… We think about fixed wireless access as an immediate opportunity to be able to provide that service largely in places where they have no service, or they have service that are much lower speeds, and fixed wireless access generally will provide up to 50 megabits of download speed."

Rogers' FWA offering carries enough capacity to deliver pay-TV services, Staffieri noted.

Rogers also intends to use its growing 5G network to support a wide range of use cases.

One recent example is a deployment underway with Kirkland Lake, and its Detour Lake Mine situated in a rural segment some 300 kilometers north of Timmins, Ontario.

Rogers is setting up a wireless private network with eight new towers along Highway 652 between Cochrane, Ontario and Detour Lake, that will provide coverage across an 80 square-kilometer operation. Rogers expects to complete the network by this summer, noting that seven of the towers are "off-grid" and primarily powered by wind and solar energy.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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