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Canada’s Independent Wireless Providers Capitulate With “For Sale” Signs; Telus Interested

mobilicityCanada’s effort to expand mobile competition has likely failed with news that three of the most significant new independent entrants have put themselves up for sale, with one likely to be acquired by Telus, western Canada’s largest phone company.

With Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, and Telus dominating at least 90 percent of Canada’s wireless marketplace, breaking up the triopoly was unlikely to be easy, but three of Canada’s newest players that acquired spectrum just five years ago are already looking for exit strategies.

Bloomberg News reported Friday that Mobilicity is in talks to be imminently acquired by Telus for between $350-400 million. Public Mobile has hired investment bankers to find a buyer. Vimpelcom, Ltd., which owns Wind Mobile, announced it was “exploring its options, including divestment.”

telus bullThe three companies have competed with the dominant players for about three years with little success. Combined, the three have not managed to achieve even a combined 10 percent market share. Most sell unlimited talk and text plans to customers that would normally buy prepaid service.

Potentially slowing any sale is a requirement that none of the independent companies can transfer their spectrum licenses until 2014, a condition of the 2008 special spectrum auction that reserved prime frequencies for new competitors and put them off-limits to larger mobile companies.

Telus remains the most likely suitor of independent providers because the company lacks the spectrum assets of its larger competitors Bell and Rogers.

Mobilicity operates its HSPA+ “4G” network on Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) frequencies in the 1,700MHz range. Although Telus has considerable spectrum in British Columbia and Alberta — its home territory — the provider has considerably less in eastern Canada, particularly in large metropolitan cities. Mobilicity has a tiny market share in the Greater Toronto Area, yet its AWS spectrum equals that of Telus in the city. Telus could find an acquisition of Mobilicity the easiest way to bolster its available spectrum for future 4G deployment and expansion.

TELUS-Spectrum-Depth

Three small independent wireless providers hold almost as much combined spectrum as Telus holds today.

Any exit of a combination of Canada’s newest wireless players will likely be seen as a failure of the government’s efforts to bolster competition. The dominance among the three largest providers has left Canadians with high-cost plans and a wireless service contract that lasts one year longer than America’s standard two-year service agreement.

Industry Canada, the economic regulator fostering a growing, competitive and knowledge-based Canadian economy, had little to say about the news.

“Any transaction that requires regulatory approval will be considered accordingly,” said Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for Industry Minister Christian Paradis. “We cannot comment on speculation.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Canadas newest wireless players seek buyers 4-12-13.flv

BNN reports industry consolidation is likely forthcoming in Canada’s wireless marketplace as Telus seeks to acquire independent provider Mobilicity. A financial analyst says the move is designed to curb budget-priced wireless service in Canada. Mobilicity would likely eventually be merged into Telus-owned Koodo Mobile, the company’s prepaid mobile division.  (5 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Globe and Mail Feds aim to open up wireless market 3-13.flv

Too little, too late? Industry Minister Christian Paradis says the Harper government wants to open up the wireless market to more players with another wireless spectrum auction. But now several of Canada’s newest independent providers are all up for sale, and the country’s dominant three may end up owning one or more of them.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Globe and Mail Market View Why we love to hate our wireless companies 3-13.flv

The Toronto Globe & Mail explores why Canadians hate their cell phone and mobile broadband providers so much.  (2 minutes)

Fido Joins Parade of Cell Phone Companies Ending Per-Second Billing

Fido puts per-second billing into the doghouse.

Canada, home of the three-year mobile phone contract, “service access fees,” high activation fees, unlock phone fees, $10 for 10MB of data, and $8 extra for “caller-ID” has had one thing going for it that American cell phone companies don’t offer — per-second billing.

Not anymore.

Our regular reader Alex writes to inform us that Fido (owned by Rogers Communications) has joined the parade of Telus’ Koodo and Bell’s Virgin Mobile Canada eliminating the money-saving billing feature for all new activations starting yesterday.

These prepaid customers will now pay by minute when they start new service or change an existing plan.

Mobile Syrup reached out to Rogers and obtained official confirmation and their explanation:

“Fido will adopt the common billing practice in Canada: per-minute billing beginning July 4th. This means that calls are rounded up to the nearest minute. This change will apply to new customers signing up with Fido. All customers who are on current plans with per second billing will retain this feature unless they change their monthly plan. The majority of customers should not notice any impact to their monthly bills. Fido offers several great plans with various call, text and data allowances that are designed to meet any need.”

The billing change further discourages Canadian consumers looking for a better deal in the prepaid market. It is the best alternative available from the handful of national carriers that charge considerably higher prices tied to an extra-long service contract and expensive data pricing.

Maybe not

Alex notes per-second billing was one of the great advantages Telus’ Koodo offered, and other competitors were initially forced to match that innovative pricing.

“Koodo’s new plans are simply the old plans, but with a $5/month increase for two calling features,” Alex notes. “Koodo found another way to gouge their customers: per-minute billing. They also removed 50 minutes from the $30/month (previously $25) plan, which used to have 150 minutes. At a time when Internet is the main demand, while talk and text cost virtually nothing to provide, Koodo is gouging.”

Koodo, Fido, and the other carriers are probably noticing that cell phone customers are talking on their cellular phones less than ever, and per-second billing can save an average of 25% off per-minute billing, especially for short conversations.

Alex has a petition up on Koodo’s website asking them to reconsider, but we’re doubtful they will. Rogers’ is not well-known for responding to customer desires for better, more cost-effective service.

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