Fool Me Once: Remembering Naguib Sawiris

Naguib Sawiris

If you’ve ever felt powerless about the high cost of service from Canada’s Big Three carriers, imagine the frustration you’d feel trying to start up a new wireless operation here, only to find yourself seated at a poker table where the cards are very clearly stacked against you. That’s how Naguib Sawiris sees it. It was his company, Orascom who, together with Globalive, brought WIND Mobile to the Canadian market. Though WIND has fared far better than Public Mobile or Mobilicity, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride.

The big news this week is that WIND is now finally in control of its own destiny, with Globalive buying out all remaining foreign interest in the company. And while CEO Tony Lacavera will continue to be the public face of WIND Mobile, Sawiris’ fate may ultimately be the poster child for the oligopoly that is our wireless industry.

That is, if you believe him.

Sawiris came out swinging in an infamous 2011 television interview with the CBC. Someone uploaded the good parts to YouTube; here it is if you’ve six-or-so minutes to spare:

If you don’t, some choice quotes:

On partnering with WIND to enter the Canadian market: “It was a bad idea.”

On competition in our telecom sector: “Why isn’t Rogers in the UK, like Vodafone […] Why aren’t they everywhere if they’re so good? The answer is simple, here they’re protected.”

On the 700 MHz spectrum auction: “Our position is clear: if they don’t set aside, we won’t bid for it—why would we go in and just increase the price so the government makes more money and we get devastated?”

After such a bad experience, you’d think Mr. Sawiris would be done with Canada. And you’d be wrong. Sawiris tried to acquire Allstream from Manitoba Telecom Services last year; Ottawa said no. At least we got one more memorable quote out of it:

“The world is big and my money can go anywhere.”

It begs the question, though, that if our country’s telecom sector is such an unfair place to do business, why would Sawiris come back for more?