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Cell Phone Companies Hoarding Cash/Credit for Spending Blitz on Canadian Spectrum

Upcoming wireless spectrum auctions are critically important for some of Canada’s newest players in the cell phone marketplace.  Most are working hard to make sure they have plenty to spend to secure new frequencies for advanced wireless services that will help them remain competitive with larger players.

Globalive Holdings, the parent company of Wind Mobile, has convinced backers to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in financing, so long as all of the money is spent on acquiring wireless spectrum.

Wind’s nearly 400,000 customers will appreciate the additional room for growth, and new customers may keep Wind in mind for advanced 4G networks most Canadian providers intend to build and expand into the new spectrum they acquire at an auction next year.

Much of the funding, estimated to approach nearly a half-billion dollars, is coming from Wind’s parent entities, Egypt-based Orascom Telecom and the European conglomerate VimpelCom that acquired Orascom earlier this year.  Because the Canadian government is expected to set-aside some of the valued 700MHz spectrum exclusively for bidding among new entrants in the market, Wind could walk away a big winner, particularly if other similar-sized competitors Mobilicity and Vidéotron Ltee./Quebecor have trouble raising enough money to remain competitive in the bidding.

As far as Canada’s largest cell companies are concerned, set-asides are unnecessary and they prefer a winner-take-all auction.  Rogers, in particular, has been lobbying hard to convince Canadian officials it needs access to the 700MHz spectrum up for auction to roll out service in rural communities and upgrade networks in larger cities.

Those who feel Canada’s cell phone marketplace is already too concentrated have little sympathy for Rogers’ point of view, and expect an auction free-for-all will mean the largest incumbent players will walk away with everything they can bid on.

Among smaller players, assuming the set-asides are in place, analysts expect Wind will probably secure the most spectrum, but Vidéotron is expected to stay competitive and walk away with at least some frequencies for use in its home province of Quebec.  Big losses among the smaller players could fuel calls for additional mergers and acquisitions among those carriers deemed to have been left behind.

The Canadian government is expected to be the biggest winner of all, netting a potential $3-4 billion from the spectrum sale.

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