Welcome Back to the Dark Ages

Dark Ages

Rather than divert this important discussion of a momentous Canadian wireless event I’m adding my two cents to the thread where they belong; if you’re seeing this on the front page you should know that there is a lot to read before my humble reply.

The story so far: Vimpelcom Ltd. has decided not to back WIND in this week’s 700MHz spectrum auction, leaving Canada’s would-be fourth carrier without the funds to participate. It’s a dick move for sure and likely a deliberate one, sending a very clear message to Ottawa that VimpelCom is not impressed with this country’s foreign ownership rules.

And the situation sucks, for everyone.

Tony Lacavera

Behold, the lion without claws…  For all the attention he’s been getting recently the biggest feather in Mr. Lacavera’s cap is that he’s been able to keep WIND running at all. This quote from a recent Globe and Mail article sums up WIND’s unique financial predicament:

When it comes to Wind’s future, depending on one’s view, Mr. Lacavera either holds all the cards or none at all. He may have voting control, but he is not bankrolling the business.

In other words, while Lacavera controls WIND through his holding company he himself seems unable to procure the cash necessary to expand operations. Without Vimpelcom to back him up, will any investors take him seriously at this point?

WIND Customers

Confidence shaken? You’re not alone.

I know at least one WIND user who has been enduring the carrier’s sub-par data network in downtown Toronto solely because of the auction; with his hopes for a more robust network dashed he may well be jumping ship soon. I suspect there are lots of other users entertaining similar ideas.

The bad press isn’t going to help WIND get new  customers, either. To be fair, the network is perfectly acceptable in some parts of the country — some parts of Toronto, even. But if WIND is perceived as having a shaky future then would-be users might turn elsewhere for service. Better the devil you know…

The Canadian Government

The 2008 AWS spectrum auction is officially a failure. Videotron and other regional players are still around, of course, but our government’s efforts to bring a fourth national carrier to this country have been a bust.

Depending on your point of view they’ve done too much meddling or too little. Some will say that foreign ownership restrictions should be lifted altogether, while others will argue that Ottawa should be taking more control of our airwaves, in the form of common carriage or something even more radical than that.

Right now any strategy looks better than what Ottawa has come up with to date. The jury’s still out on domestic roaming, but if you ask me the CRTC’s Wireless Code has done little more than given Bell, Rogers and Telus an opportunity to reset their pricing schemes, to the detriment of their customers.

The Big Three

Speaking of the Big Three, WIND’s hasty exit from the auction should be great news for them, right? Maybe not…

Smarter people than me have not forgotten the rules of the 700MHz auction — specifically the limit on spectrum that incumbents can bid for. It’s entirely possible that the set-aside for WIND will go entirely unused. It’s also possible that the auction will be delayed, which would be bad news for carriers and customers alike.

Welcome Back

In the before time, the long long ago, I paid Fido (Rogers) $10/month for a mere 12MB of 3G data. Yup, megabytes. A then-entirely reasonable 250MB would have set me back some twenty-five hundred bucks.

Five years later I was paying WIND $40/month for unlimited everything — I’d still be with them today were it not for LTE. Without LTE or additional spectrum WIND is set to fall further behind, and there may soon come a day where there will be no one left to keep the Big Three’s exorbitant prices in check.

Welcome back to the Dark Ages of mobile in Canada…