AWS-3: Wind, Videotron, Eastlink, Telus, Bell win licences

9 Mar 2015

Industry Canada concluded the auction of ‘AWS-3’ 3G/4G wireless spectrum licences on Friday, with five companies picking up a total of 39 regional licence blocks in the 1755-1780MHz / 2155-2180MHz paired bands for a combined price of over CAD2.1 billion (USD1.67 billion). In each region, a 2×15MHz ‘Set-Aside Block’ was reserved for smaller mobile players (excluding Rogers Communications, Telus Communications and Bell Mobility) while a further 2×10MHz of spectrum was available in each region via open bidding.

Telus Communications invested the most in the auction, bidding CAD1.511 billion for 15 AWS-3 licensed blocks covering a population of 30.077 million. Rival nationwide operator Bell Mobility bought 13 licence blocks costing CAD499.9 million, representing a population footprint of 13.490 million. Wind Mobile spent highest among the newer entrants, purchasing three AWS-3 blocks for CAD56.4 million, covering a population of 18.141 million in Southern Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Videotron bought four blocks for CAD31.8 million, representing a 9.890 million population footprint in Quebec and Eastern Ontario. Eastlink (Bragg Communications) bought four licences in Atlantic Canada and Northern Ontario (covering 3.101 million people) for CAD9.957 million.

In three regions, the Set-Aside Blocks went unsold, namely: Saskatchewan and Manitoba (where Telus picked up the open-bid blocks), and the Far North – Northwest Territories / Yukon / Nunavut (where Bell claimed the open-bid blocks).

Rogers Communications, Canada’s largest cellco by subscribers, did not win any AWS-3 frequencies. Neither did indebted smaller cellco Mobilicity, and following the auction results Mobilicity’s original backers Quadrangle and Data & Audio-Visual Enterprises (DAVE) have reportedly relaunched a CAD1.2 billion court case against the federal government, alleging that promises made to encourage the plaintiffs to invest in Canada’s wireless sector were broken.

As a reminder, in Canada’s previous 4G 700MHz spectrum auction in February 2014, Rogers took the biggest spoils, buying 22 paired licences for CAD3.292 billion; Telus spent CAD1.143 billion on 700MHz concessions; and Bell paid CAD565.7 million for its 700MHz frequencies. Of the smaller players, Videotron spent CAD233.3 million in the 700MHz licence sale, followed by Eastlink (CAD20.3 million), Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS, CAD8.8 million) and Saskatchewan Telecommunications (SaskTel, CAD7.6 million).

Industry Canada’s next spectrum auction – for Broadband Radio Service (BRS) licences in the 2500-2690MHz band – will open on 14 April 2015. Eleven applicants have been qualified for the 2500-2690MHz contest, namely: Rogers, Telus, Bell, Wind, Videotron, Eastlink, MTS, TBayTel, Xplornet Communications, Corridor Communications (CCI Wireless) and SSi Micro (affiliated to companies including Northern Broadband, Northern Space Link, Broadsky Communications, SSi Connexions and others).