Although the Canadian government started the auction of four prime blocks of 700 MHz spectrum, there is no update yet on any winners. In fact, we may not hear the auction results for another five weeks. In any case, with Verizon indicating that they would not bid, and Wind Mobile pulling out at the last minute, we are unlikely to see a result that will inject more competition into the Canadian Wireless space. The registered bidders are:
1. Bell Mobility Inc.
2. Bragg Communications Incorporated (Eastlink Wireless)
3. Feenix Wireless Inc. (Group led by John Bitove)
4. MTS Inc.
5. Novus Wireless Inc. (Novus)
6. Rogers Communications Partnership
7. Saskatchewan Telecommunications (SaskTel)
9. TELUS Communications Company
So we have the big three national players, Bell, Rogers and Telus, and regional players Sasktel and Vidéotron. From that list, Feenix Wireless is the one unknown. Owner John Bitove was formerly the force behind Mobilicity, once an aspiring national carrier that has fallen into creditor protection. It does not seem that he will be able to access the capital required to buy the spectrum and roll out the fourth national carrier that the Conservative government was hoping for. The auction is unlikely to significantly change the players in the Canadian wireless landscape.
The 700 MHz bandwidth became available as digital TV replace analogue in Canada. This frequency will allow carriers to more easily reach remote areas with fewer cell sites, is cheaper for carriers to deploy, and has stronger cellular signals to penetrate through thick walls in buildings. We can expect carriers to roll out LTE services in more remote locations. In addition, the 700 band is already being used by both AT&T and Verizon in the United States. So there are smartphones ready for use available immediately.
Technically, the auction appears to provide consumers a lot to look forward to. But without significant added competition among the wireless providers, all the costs will inevitably be passed back to consumers. Can we call that a win?