I see the retrenchment of NBTel back to a POTS is complete. It took over a decade but after the sale of XWave this week, it is done. At its zenith, NBTel (now BellAliant) was churning out innovative divisions and talking about New Brunswick as the ‘living lab’ for new technologies. In fact, when Bell took over, I was told by a senior manager that NB would continue to be a hotbed for the company’s innovations – nationally.
That was then, this is now. The company is doing some innovative things on the core services – FibreOp provides a bandwidth that means they will be able to compete in the TV over IP biz.
But as I have said before, companies such as NBTel are needed in an economy as incubators of new ideas and new entrepreneurs. Many of NB’s top tech firms have founders/senior leaders that were at one time part of NBTel. Where are these incubation centres now?
New Brunswick has virtually no large tech firms here anymore. RIM and Oracle have small divisions here and CGI is expanding its presence. Xerox is here as well but I am not sure they are doing the kinds of work that lead to the creation of a restless tech entrepreneurial class. If I was advising the powers that be I would be recommending they try to build up those tech anchors in the province or attract new ones. A 500-person Microsoft or Google software development centre would do wonders to anchor a tech sector development effort.
I know a number of folks in the leadership of BellAliant and I am not saying these decisions – to sell Innovatia, to divest of mobility, to sell XWave, etc. were not the right market decision. I am not in a position to comment on this. They are competing in a highly competitive market where national firms are using their scale and scope to elbow their way into market share. Spending time thinking about speculative new IT ventures doesn’t do much against behemoths such as Rogers and Telus.
But in the end, we need large, corporate champions here. We can build them from within our attract them from outside but we need a few of them in order to have the kind of economic development ecosystem that will reap results.