MVNOs: Canada vs. USA

Ting Artwork

So our government is amending the Telecommunications Act, capping domestic roaming (i.e. wholesale) rates and imposing fines for those who don’t play ball. You can see Industry Canada’s press release in all of its glory right here.

This news comes on the heels of the CRTC’s investigation into wholesale roaming rates announced last week. To see what this one-two punch could potentially mean for Canadians, let’s took a look at the current MVNOs here and compare them with what’s on offer in the United States.

Head Count

Apparently the list of MVNOs in Canada is longer than I thought. I found this site and culled its entries to the ones still operating. Taking the Big Three’s sub-brands — Chatr, Fido, Koodo, Solo Mobile, Virgin Mobile, etc. — off the table, here’s what we’re left with:

Not bad, right? Here’s the bad news: Only PC Mobile has available data plans with 1GB or more; all others are capped at 500MB or offer no data at all — a bit ridiculous for any modern smartphone user.

Also, is anyone else a bit creeped out by our big banks getting in to the mobile game? I guess it’s no worse than Rogers encroaching on their space…

South of the Border

I would have thought that heavy industry regulation was responsible for the healthy ecosystem of MVNOs in the USA, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. From this Fierce Wireless report:

Operators are hungry for these MVNO partners, particularly the smaller Tier 1 operators such as Sprint and T-Mobile US, because MVNOs can help them to grow their market share. Matt Carter, president of Sprint wholesale and emerging solutions, said MVNOs offer a good economic return for the company. “It’s a good strategic play for us,” Carter said in an interview. “It’s another army to help us garner more subscribers on the network.”

That was unexpected. And this Gigaom story from 2012 not only confirms a renaissance of MVNOs, but provides some insight as to how the big carriers do business with them:

Nine months ago, AT&T and T-Mobile started selling data and voice airtime by the bucket, which gives MVNOs much more flexibility in pricing […] Even more significantly, those carriers started working directly with MVNOs to craft unique plans in exchange for a percentage of the plans’ revenues. The MVNO submits a proposed bundle of minutes and data to an carrier – along with a $15,000 fee — and if it’s approved, the carrier then takes 25 percent to 30 percent off the top of every monthly bill.

TL;DR Carriers in the United States not only welcome MVNOs but embrace them as a pillar of their business. What a breath of fresh air.

HoFo as a Data Set

I don’t have any hard numbers to back this up, but in gathering forum threads for the daily news round-ups it seems to me that the MVNO forums — specifically the U.S. ones — are among the most active. As I write this, three of the ten most recent posts are in the Straight Talk forums, and two more in the General Prepaid discussion are about MVNOs.

Good Times Ahead?

I think that both the CRTC and Industry Canada should be lauded for their bold steps to reign in this country’s mobile oligopoly. But a glance to our southern neighbours seems to indicate that in order for Canadians to have real choice in the market the big players need to recognize wholesale mobile service as an asset to their business rather than a government-regulated nuisance.