Cellular service in Canada went live 30 years ago today

Today, June 24th, marks 30 years since the first cellphone became available in Canada.

On that day 30 years ago, CBC published a story about a new venture that Bell and Cantel, later known as Rogers Wireless, were set to embark upon. Both companies had invested millions of dollars to bring cellphone service to Toronto and Montreal with 12 cell towers in each city. Early predictions for this new form of communication said that each companies would only sign up a couple thousand subscribers in their first year. However, early adopters saw the value of technology and some 10,000 to 15,000 people were paying for wireless service by the end of the year.

At the time, Cantel President John McClelland said, “I would say that it is going to become, within five years, one of the most important communication tools in the whole telephony area. It’s going to get big. There will be tens of thousands of subscribers using the service within 3 to 5 years.”

Cellular phones gave Canadians, specifically “high profile executives” who were constantly on the move, the ability to untether themselves from a desk or office. However, this freedom and convenience came at a price. In 1985, paying for a cellphone and the service that came with it carried a price tag between $2,000 and $6,000 for the device itself and accompanying “call charges”.

Both Cantel and Bell spent millions of dollars advertising the new service. The first tagline was from Cantel, which claimed that it was “Canada’s Cellular Telephone Service,” confirming that while mobile technology may change, corporate marketing strategies do not. Bell followed up with similar advertising, telling Canadians how they could “count on Bell Cellular Mobile Telephone Service.”

Then Bell Cellular President Robert Rowland said, “I believe it is going to be an aggressive and tough market. I believe we are going to have to sell many customers to make the service profitable. We’re going to have to sell them one at a time. It’s not going to be a draw market where customers are going to walk in and purchase service over the counter. We’re going to out there and prove them on the customers home ground that what we are offering has clear advantages over conventional telephone services.”

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Fast forward 30 years later, according to the statistics from the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), there are now over 28 million wireless subscribers in Canada. Given the importance of today to mobile tech in Canada, in some way it’s fitting that Industry Canada announced this morning that had approved the sale of Mobilicity’s spectrum and 150,0000 subscribers to Rogers.

Here’s to another 30 years of mobile in Canada.

[source] CBC [/source]