Technology & Science

Wind Mobile launches in Vancouver

Wind Mobile has launched in Vancouver, adding a fifth city to boost its aspirations of becoming Canada's fourth national wireless carrier.

Wind Mobile has launched in Vancouver, adding a fifth city to boost its aspirations of becoming Canada's fourth national wireless carrier.

The company announced on Thursday that its network is up and running in Vancouver, with coverage extending from North Vancouver to Richmond in the south, and from the coast to Coquitlam in the east. Chairman Tony Lacavera said Wind was starting with three branded stores and four kiosks in Blockbuster Video outlets.

Wind launched service first in Toronto and Calgary in December, followed by Edmonton in February and Ottawa in March. The company now has 28 branded stores and 32 Blockbuster locations across the five cities, and employs a total of 800 people, Lacavera said. Wind is also adding independent dealers in Ontario, he added.

The company's parent, Globalive Communications, spent more than $440 million in a 2008 government auction of airwaves to secure licences across the country — except in Quebec — with the goal of competing head-on with Canada's big three wireless companies, Bell, Rogers and Telus.

Its road to market has been rocky. Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission refused to allow the company to start up on the grounds that its control structure had too much foreign influence, which ran counter to Canadian ownership restrictions. Wind's primary financial backer is Egypt's Orascom.

Industry Minister Tony Clement stepped in last December and overruled the CRTC, clearing the way for the company to launch.

Soon after starting up, customers complained of poor coverage and dropped calls. Lacavera admitted there were coverage holes and said the company was working hard to plug them. Wind has also offered a number of promotions recently in an effort to woo customers, including helping people pay off their existing cellphone contracts.

Some industry analysts have said the coverage problems and promotions are an indication Wind is having trouble attracting and retaining customers. Lacavera would not disclose customer numbers but disputed the claims.

"It's not even close to true. Obviously people are leaving because we don't put them in onerous contracts," he said. "If people decide that Wind isn't right for them for whatever reason, they can take their phone and go."

Wind now also has other new carriers to battle, with Mobilicity and Public Mobile launching service in Toronto in May. All three are offering low-cost calling without contracts. Mobilicity has plans to add service in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa later this year, while Public is planning to launch in Montreal this month.