Cellphone companies await Ottawa’s new auction plans

A Wind Mobile shop in Toronto, ON. Credit/Canadian Press

Ottawa will announce Friday plans to sell off additional airwaves to cellphone companies next year in the government’s ongoing bid to beef up high-speed Internet services across the country.

Global News has learned Industry Minister James Moore will provide details on an auction for radiowaves in the  2500Mhz frequencies, bands that support wireless Web traffic sent to and from smartphones and other connected devices.

The announcement comes less than a week before an even more crucial auction for airwaves is set to begin. Next Tuesday, cellphone companies like Rogers, Bell and Telus as well as newcomer Wind Mobile will start bidding on bands in the 700Mhz frequencies.

The lower frequencies are considered “beach front” bands best situated to carry wireless signals long distances. Ottawa is hoping to nurture more competition in the sector by limiting how much spectrum each incumbent — Bell, Rogers and Telus — can buy up.

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Moore is expected to announce Friday the 2500Mhz auction will take place in early 2015.

Earlier Thursday, analysts speculated the minister may announce an update on additional efforts to juice competition in the sector by assisting smaller operators.

Followint a media advisory, some said the announcement Friday could be to reveal new rules that would force Rogers, Bell and Telus to reduce the amount of money they charge smaller competitors such as Wind and Mobilicity to let customers patch into their larger networks when outside their home zones – known as domestic roaming.

The minister said on Dec. 18 the government would move in the “coming weeks” to introduce legislation.

READ MORE: Ottawa moves to save smaller wireless carriers a few bucks

The minister won’t likely be delivering an update on the roaming front Friday, pushing off the matter to a later date.

Experts say eliminating the high rates smaller carriers must pay will save them tens of millions of dollars a year.

Cheaper deals may help attract new customers to their fledging subscriber bases, which after several years in the marketplace haven’t yet grown large enough to make Wind or Mobilicity profitable.

Wind has a subscriber base of more than 600,000 while Mobilicity — which is operating under court protection from creditors — has roughly a quarter of a million customers. Rogers, by comparison, has more than nine million subscribers.

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— With files from Bryan Mullan in Ottawa. 

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