Wind Mobile launches service

Wind Mobile, the company that aims to become Canada's fourth major cellphone provider, has launched service in Toronto, with a Calgary opening slated for Friday.

Wind Mobile, the company that aims to become Canada's fourth major cellphone provider, has launched service in Toronto, with a Calgary opening slated for Friday.

Wind, owned by Globalive Communications, opened its first store in Toronto at noon on Wednesday. The company is opening five other stores, as well as 13 kiosks in Blockbuster video stores, in the Greater Toronto Area.

Chief executive officer Ken Campbell said the company's network in Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton is nearly ready to go and will launch in those cities soon.

Chairman Anthony Lacavera unveiled the company's pricing plans, which range from $15 to $45. He said the plans represent a normalization with what's found in the rest of the world, where there are no fees for system access, 911 or activation. The plans also offer customers free caller ID, call forward and unlimited Wind-to-Wind calling across the country.

"We are different and we will treat you different," Lacavera said. "The big three have set the bar low."

The more expensive plans, at $35 and $45, include unlimited local and province-wide calling, with the top-end plan offering unlimited Canada-wide calls. Data plans range between $10 for access to instant messaging, Facebook and MySpace, to $55 for USB laptop sticks.

Lacavera said the pricing is "not revolutionary" compared to what Bell, Rogers and Telus are currently charging, but customers would get better value from Wind's offerings.

The company is launching with four phones — the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the HTC Maple, Samsung Gravity 2 and the Huawei U7519, as well as a Huawei E181 data stick. The phones and data stick are capable of speeds up to 7.2 megabits, with a possibility to ramping up to 21 megabits and beyond, Campbell said.

Full cost for phones paid up front

Unlike other carriers, Wind wants customers to pay the full cost of the phones up front, ranging from $130 to $450, rather than subsidizing them in exchange for long-term contracts.

"Our customers stay with us because they want to, not because they have to," Campbell said.

The company said it will welcome other phones onto its network, including the upcoming rumoured Google phone, but not all handsets will work on it. Only new phones designed to work on Advanced Wireless Spectrum are compatible, so many current GSM phones — including Apple's iPhone — will not work.

Telus said Wind's plans are not much different from its own.

"It appears that they are offering some of the same options and plan features we offer Telus customers such as the no-contract option, free features such as voicemail, call waiting or conference calling (on our clear choice plans), no system access fee, no carrier 911 fees, unlimited text messaging, and deals on long distance," said spokesman Jim Johannsson. "Many of the same options, just bundled in a slightly different way." 

He added that Wind appears to have introduced domestic roaming charges. Wind customers will have to pay 25 cents a minute for calls outside of their home zones.

A spokesperson for Rogers said the company does not comment on competitors' services. A Bell spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Globalive's launch has been and continues to be rocky. In October, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said the company, which has financial backing from Egypt's Orascom, did not meet Canadian ownership and control rules and could therefore not start up.

On Friday, Industry Minister Tony Clement overruled the CRTC and said Globalive did indeed meet Canadian requirements. Opposition politicians earlier this week criticized the decision and said the government was unfairly bending the rules.

The Communication, Energy and Paperworkers union, which represents 150,000 workers, said Clement's decision was "an affront to democracy" that will sell out Canadian interests and culture. The union, which counts about 25,000 Bell employees among its members, said it intends to challenge the government's decision in court.

Lacavera on Wednesday said the challenge is baseless and added that Globalive has already created 800 jobs in the telecommunications sector.