New wireless providers Mobilicity and Wind are firing back at a Rogers campaign asking consumers to take political action or risk facing limited access to a faster, next-generation wireless technology called LTE.
Rogers has been calling on the public to lobby the government to allow it and other large carriers to bid on a new block of wireless airwaves in an upcoming auction. In a previous spectrum auction in 2008, the government set aside part of the spectrum for new wireless companies in order to boost competition. Rogers has been warning consumers that a similar decision would threaten their access to LTE.
In a news release Monday, Mobilicity called the Rogers campaign "a thinly veiled attempt at manipulating government regulators and public perception" and urged the public to lobby on its behalf instead.
"The future of affordable wireless rates is at risk, not the future of long-term evolution (LTE) networks," said Mobilicity's chief operating officer Stewart Lyons in a statement.
The fight centres around a coveted block of wireless spectrum — the 700 megahertz block, formerly used by analog television, but freed up when Canada switched to digital TV on Aug. 31. The 700 MHz block is expected to go up for auction as early as next year. In 2008, the reservation of certain airwaves for new wireless companies led to the launch of services from Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, Public Mobile and Vidéotron since late 2009.
Industry Canada, however, has not yet indicated what rules it will set for the 700 MHz block auction.
LTE in Canada
Rogers first launched LTE in Ottawa in July and is expected to launch LTE in Toronto Wednesday.
Bell launched its Ontario LTE network in areas of Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph earlier in September. Both companies say they will expand LTE to other cities in the next year.
In September, Bell noted that the timing of its LTE rollout in rural areas depends on the outcome of Industry Canada's 700 MHz spectrum auction.
Telus is also expected to launch an LTE network in 2012.
Both Bell and Rogers say their LTE networks provide typical download speeds of between 12 and 25 megabits per second or roughly double the speed of their HSPA+ networks.
Rogers launched a campaign on its blog in July, alleging that similar rules this time around "would be a recipe for leaving Canada behind the rest of the world, stalling Canadian innovation and limiting your access to LTE."
Rogers asked consumers to email the industry minister and their local Member of Parliament with a form letter urging the government to allow all companies to participate in the auction because "excluding any provider would only serve to slow down Canadian innovation, damaging our growing and vital digital economy" and "adversely affect Canadian consumers like me."
Rogers said that to allow for the "fastest and strongest LTE network," the technology should be deployed on the 700 MHz band, which will allow coverage to reach rural areas and move underground through buildings in urban areas.
However, Mobilicity's Lyons said Rogers, Bell and Telus already have "more spectrum than they need" and suggested their real goal is "eliminating competition so they can raise their rates back up again."
The company said it needs to augment its "limited amount of spectrum to ensure affordable pricing continues."
Mobilicity asked the public to send politicians an edited version of Rogers's letter, which says excluding incumbent carriers such as Rogers "would only serve to slow down incumbent profits."
The modified letter adds: "Having incentives for new entrants to acquire spectrum will provide the best opportunity for us to actually achieve affordable data services, especially LTE."
Mobilicity has not announced any plans to build an LTE network, although another new entrant, Wind Mobile, announced a test of LTE in February.
Wind chimes in
On Tuesday, Wind Mobile chairman and CEO Anthony Lacavera weighed in with his own blog post, agreeing with Mobilicity's belief that Rogers wants to eliminate its new competitors.
Lacavera alleged new entrants could never win an auction where Rogers, Bell and Telus were allowed to bid.
"In an open auction, no one would, or could, seriously bid against them, because it is always worth more to an oligopoly to protect its turf against vigorous and effective competition than it is to new entrants seeking to go up against them," he wrote.
Lacavera also questioned why Rogers and Bell would need the additional spectrum to expand their LTE networks into rural areas.
"Makes you wonder what they have been doing with all the spectrum they already have in rural areas," he said. "If this were a priority it would have been done already."
Lacavera said he thinks it's a great idea for consumers to reach out to their MP. But he suggested that if they do, "Why not tell them that you like the idea of having competition for the future of wireless in Canada?"