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Could Freedom Mobile be the Wind beneath Bell’s wings?

Shaw could do a deal for more LTE spectrum and save the MTS acquisition.

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Wind Mobile is no more – long live its replacement, Freedom Mobile.

Wind’s owner, Calgary-based cable provider Shaw Communications, made the rebranding announcement on Monday as part of its effort to transform the former startup into a viable fourth choice for Canadian wireless subscribers in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

“There was some baggage over the years associated with the Wind name,” chief executive Alek Krstajic said, referring to the company’s often wonky network and suspect customer service. “Wind” also carried with it a licensing fee to Vimpelcom, its former Amsterdam-based owner.

Along with the name change, Krstajic also announced the launch of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) service. Customers in Toronto and Vancouver, its two biggest markets, will get access to proper 4G speeds on Nov. 27, with the rest of the company’s footprint covered by the end of 2017. Sort of.

Wind… er Freedom’s LTE has a big asterisk next to it. It will operate mainly on the AWS-3 portion of the wireless spectrum, which doesn’t yet accommodate many phones. Freedom will only have two compatible devices this year, the LG V20 and the ZTE Grand X 4.

Given Apple’s release schedule, a compatible iPhone – something many customers will be looking for – may not become available for nearly a year or more. That iPhone-less hole is reminiscent of Wind’s original launch back in 2009, a big reason the company got off to a slow start.

Needless to say, Shaw needs different flavours of LTE-compatible spectrum if it is going to make Freedom a viable fourth carrier. And there’s at least one good way the company could get it.

As Greg O’Brien noted in an editorial for CARTT, which was republished on MobileSyrup, Shaw could do a deal with Bell, which itself is seeking a way to make its attempted acquisition of MTS in Manitoba palatable to the federal government.

With little action on a deal that was announced seven months ago, observers are starting to believe that Bell won’t get the rubber stamp to go ahead without making major changes.

Transferring some less-used spectrum to Shaw in Manitoba or elsewhere, enabling the cable provider to establish a footprint in the province and beef up its LTE otherwise, might be enough to gain the government’s favour.

A similar spectrum-swapping precedent was set last year in a deal between Shaw, Rogers and Wind, when Wind was still independent. The agreement saw Rogers acquire failing startup Mobilicity, with Shaw and Wind carving up and trading some spectrum.

The question now is whether giving up some spectrum to Shaw and potentially enabling the company to operate in Manitoba would be too rich a proposition for Bell.

After all, the MTS acquisition is geared toward taking out a pesky low-priced competitor in the province. Would Bell really want to enable another?

5 Comments on Could Freedom Mobile be the Wind beneath Bell’s wings?

  1. The saga continues. I’m running an iPhone on Win-Freedom — had to run a hack to get iMessage working fully — I wonder if I’ll have access to the 4G or if I’ll still be in the 3G swamp. No mention of whether 4G will cost more, either…

    • According to the CBC story linked to, there will be some “modest price hikes” for LTE.

      • Hmm. Modest if you compare it to the big 3, maybe, but not the reason I got on board with these guys. Love my predictable monthly pricing. $45.20 every month, rain or shine.

  2. In MB, MTS is not, nor has it ever been a “pesky low priced competitor”. Those low priced competitors are actually Telus and Bell who each have under 10% of the local market. The BCE MTS deal would see Bell move from fourth place in the market to first and divest a chunk that would see Telus more than double their share but remain in third.

    • Wireless prices in Manitoba are up to half of what they are in other provinces. The presence of MTS as a fourth carrier is the reason for that. Remove MTS and prices will shoot up, which is what Bell wants to do.

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