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George A. Cope letter to shareholders
Canada’s first communications company remains the industry’s pacesetter
Bell’s broadband leadership strategy delivered extensive network expansion, continued innovation in wireless, TV, Internet and media growth services, and the industry’s largest gains in new broadband customers in 2017. We’re taking our momentum in broadband innovation further, with an all-fibre network that’s now On in centres large and small across 7 provinces, and wireless leadership at a global level with Bell LTE, Canada’s Best National Network.
Bell is a company with the scale, strategy and team to lead the way in Canadian communications, an industry defined by heightened competition, technological change and evolving consumer tastes. In 2017, we achieved historic growth across our broadband communications services, welcoming a total of 1.26 million new postpaid wireless, IPTV and Internet customers while enhancing Bell Media’s longstanding position as Canada’s premier multimedia company.
With our focus on creativity, innovation and execution, Canadian consumers and business customers are always finding new reasons to choose Bell in a competitive marketplace. Our commitment to industry leadership is defined by a clear goal – for Bell to be recognized by customers as Canada’s leading communications company – and our execution of the 6 Strategic Imperatives required to achieve it.
Canadians everywhere are benefitting from a strategy that has delivered rapid growth in fibre and wireless coverage and speeds, innovative communications products and services available from no one else, outstanding and original content across every media platform, and steady progress in delivering a better customer experience at every level.
First in broadband wireless
Bell set the pace in the dynamic wireless marketplace, the primary driver of communications growth and innovation. In 2017, we gained more net new postpaid subscribers than any competitor – a total of 417,000, 32% more than in 2016 – and greatly increased our overall wireless scale with a total of 700,000 new subscribers added to our base including the addition of MTS wireless customers in Manitoba.
This includes more than 175,000 postpaid wireless customer additions in the hypercompetitive fourth quarter, our best performance in 15 years. It’s clear that in a wireless marketplace with a full range of providers and service options, Canadians overwhelmingly choose the Best National Network (including the Government of Canada, which selected Bell as its primary provider of mobile devices and wireless services in 2017).
Faster than networks in major cities around the globe, Bell LTE marked 2017 with North America’s first Quad-band LTE-A service capable of delivering theoretical data speeds up to 750 Mbps, and in early 2018 we announced Canada’s first LTE network deployment capable of achieving the Gigabit plus speeds that top smartphones will support this year.
With the best in speed, coverage and quality, Bell LTE is driving increased wireless customer satisfaction, reflected in ongoing declines in customer churn in 2017, and rapid growth in mobile data usage (up 58% on our national LTE network in 2017). More new smartphone customers using more services and data resulted in industry-leading wireless service revenue and adjusted EBITDA growth in 2017.
Full fibre: It’s On
We’ve turned on our all-fibre network in centres from Newfoundland and Labrador to Manitoba, including most of the City of Toronto, Canada’s largest population centre. We’re quickly expanding our footprint in Montréal and recently announced our next major fibre to the premises project in the fast-growing GTA/905 region surrounding Toronto, an additional 1.3 million homes and business locations.
Fibre connections deliver strong customer gains, drive growth in usage and reduce customer churn. Continued strong growth in Fibe TV and Internet customers, higher retention of home phone customers as households opt for the Bell bundle, and strong gains in the competitive small business sector furthered Bell’s lead as the #1 provider of both TV (2.8 million customers) and Internet (3.8 million) services in Canada.
The best networks powering the full range of smartphone, TV and computer platforms are delivering the media that Canadians want to watch. Bell Media has become the lead innovator in content creation at an increasingly global level; offers the leading viewing and listening platforms, with #1 CTV in conventional TV, the top names in premium pay TV including HBO, Showtime and most recently Lionsgate’s hit Starz network, and the fast-growing iHeartRadio Canada brand; and the favourite English and French language specialty channels.
By the end of the year, TSN had regained its position as the top sports network and most-watched specialty channel of any kind in Canada, supported by Bell’s significant investments in Canada’s top pro sports franchises through Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the Montréal Canadiens.
Embracing innovative opportunities to create value
As the media industry evolves, Bell Media is already ahead in the next generation of multimedia. We’re growing streaming platforms like CraveTV and TV Everywhere GO products, creating new mobile viewing options like SnackableTV, and accelerating our growing Astral out-of-home advertising business with investment in massive digital screens in the highest-traffic locations nationwide.
This same spirit of innovation, backed by the nation’s best connectivity and highest spending on Canadian R&D in the industry, is propelling new opportunities for Bell Business Markets data hosting and cloud computing solutions; creating new cross-segment opportunities in Internet of Things applications like the Smart City (Kingston and Bell have partnered on Canada’s first project) and the Connected Home; and delivering bold new home and wireless services that take broadband further.
We launched Alt TV in 2017, an extension of the Fibe TV platform offering the first app-based television service in Canada that requires no set-top box or installation service. We introduced an entirely new wireless brand for budget-conscious consumers called Lucky Mobile with low-cost plans starting at just $20 for unlimited local calling. Reflecting Bell’s world-class network capabilities, we were the only Canadian carrier and just 1 of 14 worldwide to support LTE service on the new Apple Watch Series 3 at launch.
New records for Canadian mental health
Bell has always been a leader in the Canadian community, and our spirit of innovation is clear in the growing positive impact of the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative. Recognized internationally for leading the conversation about mental illness, Bell Let’s Talk continues to find fresh ways to grow awareness and action in mental health with new anti-stigma, care and access, research and workplace initiatives, including announcing the biggest university and college participation and support program in the world. Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 31 took the mental health conversation to record levels of engagement and support. Canadians everywhere and people worldwide came together as a positive force for change with 138,383,995 total texts, calls and social media messages of support for mental health, directly driving Bell’s donations to the cause at no extra cost to participants. #BellLetsTalk was the top Twitter hashtag in the world and remains the most-used hashtag of all time in Canada, reflecting the broad positive impact of the campaign especially among young people.
On behalf of the entire Bell team, I thank you for investing in Bell and our strategy of broadband leadership. Your support provides us with the means and the motivation to make this great Canadian company better every day. We’re proud to deliver the best networks and the most advanced communications services to Canadians, and ongoing returns to you and all those who have enabled Bell’s leadership position.
George A. Cope
President and Chief Executive Officer
BCE Inc. and Bell Canada