Globalive says wireless network launch imminent

Upstart wireless company Globalive said it could launch its Wind cellphone network "as early as Monday" in Toronto and Calgary after the federal government approved its ownership structure Friday.
Anthony Lacavera is the chairman of Globalive, which got approval Friday to become Canada's fourth major mobile phone company after Rogers, Bell and Telus. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

Upstart wireless company Globalive said it could launch its Wind cellphone network "as early as Monday" in Toronto and Calgary after the federal government approved its ownership structure Friday.

Globalive chairman Anthony Lacavera floated the possible Monday launch date in comments he made to CBC News after a press conference in Toronto on Friday announcing the network.

CEO Ken Campbell, who was also at the press conference, was more vague, saying Wind would be available in Toronto and Calgary "very soon."

Globalive plans to have its wireless service available across the country, except in Quebec, in 2010, starting with major cities.

The company bought the right to establish a new wireless network after spending $442 million in a government auction of airwaves last year.

The federal government had set aside airwaves in the auction for new players in the hopes of encouraging more competition in the wireless market and lowering prices for consumers.

Campbell said consumers in the launch markets won't have to wait until Christmas to get a Wind cellphone.

"The objective is to have quite a few Wind mobiles under Christmas trees," he said.

The company already has national and international roaming agreements and will be offering smartphones, including a selection from brands such as HTC, Samsung and BlackBerry. But it won't be offering Apple's iPhone or any phones using Google Inc.'s Android software.

Three-month stock chart for BCE Inc. on the TSX.

Three-month stock chart for Telus on the TSX.

Three-month stock chart for Rogers on the TSX. ((CBC))

CRTC decision overruled

Industry Canada had approved Globalive's ownership structure, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said in October that the company did not meet Canadian ownership and control requirements.

The regulator said the fact that the Toronto-based company has received most of its funding from Naguib Sawiris, the billionaire head of Egyptian telecommunications company Orascom, disqualified it from operating in Canada.

But on Friday, Industry Minister Tony Clement overturned the CRTC ruling, saying a government review found Globalive met Canadian ownership and control requirements under the Telecommunications Act.

"We take this decision very seriously. It is based on the application of these requirements to the facts in this case," said Clement.

He said the decision would allow Globalive to set up shop "effective immediately" and would not require the company to make any changes to its ownership structure.

Globalive had argued its ownership was Canadian and that it would have liked to have secured financing from other sources, but the global credit crunch prevented it from doing so for much of the past year.

Canada's existing cellphone companies, Bell, Rogers and Telus, had argued that Globalive was little more than a front for Orascom. The carriers were disappointed with Clement's ruling.

"If Wind is Canadian, then so was King Tut," said Michael Hennessy, head of regulatory affairs for Telus, on his Twitter page. "When you have no effective opposition party, you can make the rules you want."

Shares of the three major Canadian wireless players all declined sharply on the Toronto Stock Exchange Friday morning.

Consumer advocates cheered the government's decision as a big win for cellphone customers.

"More competition should elevate Canada's market to that approaching what exists in the rest of the world," said Michael Janigan, director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

Clement said the ruling was a one-time decision specific to the company's situation and would not have any bearing on foreign-ownership restrictions currently in place.