The Canadian government will hold a spectrum auction early next year with a large block reserved for new entrants, as it continues efforts to boost competition in a market dominated by the ‘big three’ operators of Rogers Wireless, Telus and Bell Mobility.
The AWS-3 (advanced wireless spectrum) allocation will be made available from the start of 2015, with the government touting it as “ideal for delivering fast, reliable service”, including LTE technology.
The auction rules include a 30MHz block set aside for new entrants. Operators with less than 10 per cent of subscribers nationally or less than 20 per cent in provincial markets will be eligible to bid on the reserved spectrum in regions where they already operate.
There will also be strict provisions on the transfer of spectrum so consumers benefit from increased competition, and a simpler auction process, which will give new entrants “a visible path to high-quality spectrum”.
The AWS-3 spectrum includes 50MHz of paired spectrum and is adjacent to the AWS spectrum auctioned in 2008, which is anticipated to speed up the deployment of networks and availability of suitable handsets.
A consultation on the licensing of the spectrum will begin this summer, in which the length of licences will be discussed along with whether the proposed auction process is the best approach to encourage participation.
The streamlined auction should allow for the results to be known ahead of an auction of 2.5GHz spectrum scheduled for April next year.
Canada conducted an auction of 700MHz spectrum at the beginning of the year, with market leader Rogers making bumper bids that represented more than 60 per cent of the $4.78 billion total. Fellow big three operators Telus and Bell Mobility also secured licences.
Despite the sizeable bids from the market leaders, the aim of creating greater competition was boosted by smaller player Videotron acquiring frequencies for other parts of the country, including the most populous areas. MTS, SaskTel, Feenix and new entrant Bragg also secured licences.
The auction was hit by the last-minute withdrawal of Wind Mobile, the largest of the country’s new operators, after principal backer VimpelCom decided to not fund a bid for spectrum in the 700MHz frequency.
Canada’s smaller operators have struggled to make an impact, with Mobilicity filing for creditor protection in October last year after a deal with Telus fell through. Telus ended up buying Public Mobile in the same month.
According to GSMA Intelligence, Rogers had 9.5 million connections at the end of Q2 2014, with Telus on 8.1 million and Bell Mobility on 7.8 million. With just 28.7 million connections in the whole of Canada, the three operators hold 88 per cent of the market.