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Texting service used by schools complains about fees charged by Bell, Rogers

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Two of Canada’s largest mobile phone services are being targeted by a social media campaign launched by Remind.com, a San Francisco-based company that provides a free two-way texting service for teachers, students and parents.

Remind is calling on its Canadian users — nearly one million individuals, according to the company — to pressure Rogers and Bell to reverse a recent price increase that makes Remind’s texting service uneconomic in this country.

“Beginning on Jan. 28, parents and students in Canadian classes who normally get Remind texts will no longer receive messages if they have wireless plans with Rogers, Bell, or their respective subsidiaries,” the company says.

It goes on to ask users to reach out to Bell and Rogers through social media to ask them to reverse the fee.

The free version of Remind’s app has a variety of uses including notifying groups about class assignments, schedules or emergencies, as well as two-way communications between individual teachers, students and parents.

Rogers and Bell say they don’t have a direct contractual relationship with Remind — which accesses their networks indirectly through two intermediary companies — but they are willing to discuss a compromise.

“We know how important it is for educators and parents to stay connected,” Rogers spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt said in an email statement.

“Last year we reached out and made every effort to work out a more than fair agreement with them that would have met their SMS needs on our network. Unfortunately, they were not satisfied.”

Charging an intermediary company

Bell spokesman Nathan Gibson said in an email that Bell doesn’t directly charge either its own customers or Remind to send or receive text messages on their mobile phones.

But Bell did begin to charge an intermediary company, called Syniverse, a “very nominal fee” for each message delivered over its network as of Dec. 1 in response to a higher volume of spam text messages.

“We were contacted by Remind for the first time last week about the increased costs they’re facing. We are talking to them and Syniverse about what can be done to address their concerns.”

Syniverse is an intermediary that bridges the gap between the world’s wireless communications networks. In this case, it has relationships with Bell, Rogers and Twilio, another intermediary used by Remind.

None of the companies’ representatives would disclose the per-message fees involved.

Remind has been advising its Canadian users that the service will soon no longer work in Canada. (CBC)

But Remind chief executive Brian Grey said its annual costs would jump from “tens of thousands of dollars” to “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” and the increase is unsustainable for the company at this stage of its development.

Grey said Remind doesn’t use its platform as a method for distributing advertising and its revenue comes from the sale of a large-scale version of the service to schools and districts, a practice launched in January 2017 in the United States.

“Longer term, our plan would be to bring that to Canada and other markets. But we’re just not there yet,” Grey said.

In the meantime, Remind’s strategy in Canada is to provide a free version of its service to teachers who then spread the word to students, parents and eventually school administrators.

“That’s why this move by Rogers and Bell also is problematic. Basically, it comes at a time when all we are providing to Canada — educators, students and parents — is a free version of our service.”

“Our business model is really about building more benefits and features into our communications platform that then allow us to sell a paid version … that connects to what are called school information systems,” Grey said.

Grey said he’s looking for alternative methods for Remind to reach users in Canada but said it would be better to stay with Bell and Rogers, given the number of teachers, students and parents who use their service.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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