SiriusXM Canada, the company created by the merger of Sirius Canada and XM Canada, began operation in Canada today. The merged company has more than 1.8 million subscribers and is expected to take in revenues of more than $200 million annually.

In a written statement released this morning, the company said the merger would have no immediate effect on the current service coverage or existing radios, and in the near term, customers could expect to interact with each company as they always have.

While things remain constant in the near term, question naturally arise about what those 1.8 million subscribers can expect in the long term.

Sirius XM did announce that it would be launching a CRTC mandated channel dedicated to Aboriginal content by September of this year but left many more interesting questions unanswered such as "when can Canadians begin subscribing to Best of XM and Best of Sirius packages?"

Perhaps knowing that Digital Home readers need to be the first to know, I received a phone call today from the man who runs customer service at the newly merged company, Al MacNevin. Al and I spent about a half hour on the phone and I asked him all the questions that I'm sure that all or our members who are Sirius Canada or XM Canada subscribers want to know.

The following is a synopsis of our conversation.

When can we get Best of XM or Best of Sirius Packages

SiriusXM doesn't have an answer for this question just yet. As I suspected, Al said it could be a while. He assured me that the company dearly wants to offer these types of packages as soon as possible, however, there are several reasons why they can't offer them just yet.

To offer Best of packages, SiriusXM must first make massive changes to their back office billing systems and their IT systems before they change accept and implement. In addition, they need to train their front line staff about the new packages and train them how use the new computer systems needed to support it all.

Also complicating the situation is the fact that SiriusXM Canada cannot offer the packages sold in the United States because of Cancon restrictions. Under rules set down in 2005, the CRTC requires that Sirius XM deliver one Canadian station for every nine U.S. stations offered in a package. The Best of packages offered in the United States don't meet CRTC requirements therefore SiriusXM Canada will have to develop Best of packages which are unique from those offered south of the border.

In addition, Sirius XM Canada knows that Canadians have different tastes than Americans so the ideal line-up in a Best of Sirius or Best of XM package is different in this country. For example, many XM listeners in Canada will want the CBC stations in their Best of Sirius package whereas this has little attraction to Americans.

Interoperable Radios

In a written statement issued today, the president of Sirius XM Canada Mark Redmond said that customers could "look forward to the introduction of an interoperable receiver later this year, allowing customers to subscribe to either or both of the two services."

When asked, Mr. MacNevin said consumers should expect the radios to be available during the holiday season. The sale of interoperable radios was a CRTC requirement for the mergers.

While the radios are a regulatory requirement, Al believes they won't be big sellers since most subscribers are likely to stick with a lower cost subscription to just a single service.

Lifetime Memberships

In the first few years of Sirius Canada's existence, the company offered a Lifetime Membership plan. Some Sirius Canada subscribers worried that Sirius XM might not honour the plan after the merger. Al assured me that Sirius Lifetime members had nothing to fear and that their Lifetime memberships would be honoured under the conditions they signed up for.

Al didn't think SiriusXM would offer these packages again although he did not rule out the possibility.

Online Listening

For the last several years, Sirius Canada offered free online listening to subscribers in good standing. Conversely XM Canada charged an additional fee in order to access its online offerings.

Al told Digital Home that former Sirius Canada subscribers would continue to have access to online listening at no additional charge. He also hinted that XM Canada subs may soon have online listening included in their monthly fee.

iOS App Availability

Recently SiriusXM released an iOS app in the United States which took advantage of Apple's latest operating system. Canadian users have been clamouring for the new app because it takes advantage of multitasking meaning a user can listen to Sirius XM on their Apple device while using other applications. Currently this is not possible.

Al says the app is a priority for the company and they hope to have it out in this country as soon as possible.

On the topic of smartphone support, the company will continue to support and develop smartphone applications for the Android and iOS operating because they are far and away the most popular. While a final decision has not been made, the high cost of maintaining apps for multiple platforms means Blackberry Torch users may not see updates for that platform in the future.

Competition in Canada

In the past, I have called the SiriusXM merger anti-competitive because it created a Satellite radio monopoly which could lead to higher prices and Al took me to task during our conversation.

He explained that while there will only be one satellite radio provider in Canada, the truth is that Sirius XM's greatest competition now comes from Smartphones, iPods and Internet Radio. He believes that SiriusXM has no choice but keep prices down and quality up because there are so many non-satellite radio alternatives in the marketplace today.


Discuss the new SiriusXM Canada and my conversation with Al MacNevin in Digital Home's Sirius XM Satellite Radio discussion forum .