Cable company says its close to launching wireless service in Nova Scotia and PEI and becoming the country’s 10th cellular carrier

Eastlink to launch cellular

Eastlink is still being coy about when the cable company will launch its cellular network in two Maritime provinces.

But at a news conference Tuesday to announce a mobile video service for its subscribers across the country, CEO Lee Bragg divulged two new facts about the cellular service promised for this year:

–The new wireless data network will use LTE technology, the fastest available;

–Eastlink has already erected some 150 cellular antenna sites in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

“We’re close to a cellular announcement,” Bragg told reporters and industry analysts. “It’s going to be soon.”

But while Eastlink’s parent company, Bragg Group, spent some $25 million on spectrum in the 2008 AWS auction, the company is in no rush.
(UPDATE: Eastlink has changed its Web site and now says it will launch wireless service “early in 2013.”)
 
Nova Scotia and PEI are already served by the wireless services of Bell Mobility, Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications, so, Bragg noted, “there’s no first to market advantage for us, we’re not in a big panic. We really want to do this right.”
 
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In the meantime, Eastlink cable subscribers who want to use the mobile video service –called Eastlink To Go – to watch TV or video on demand will do it on competitors’ wireless networks, Wi-Fi hotspots. It’s also available as over Eastlink’s cable Internet service.

To deliver the service Eastlink is using Cisco Systems Inc.’s Videoscape platform, which converts IPTV content from service providers for use on more than HDTV screens. Telus and Rogers are also Videoscape customers, but Eastlink’s implementation is unique: Eastlink To Go is a so-called end-to-end solution for any device – whether it’s a personal computer attached to a cable Internet line, or a wireless devices connected to Wi-Fi or cellular. The platform optimizes the signal for the broadband connection, screen size and resolution.

By comparison, for example, Rogers only uses Videoscape for set-top boxes and a different platform for sending video to mobile devices.

To access Eastlink on Demand subscribers only need to launch an Internet browser. Much – but not all – of the regular cable channels will be available. However, the customer will have to already subscribe to pay channels to get certain movie and sports channels as well.

The ability to get certain programs on-demand also depends on negotiations with content providers and may vary by province. Eastlink cable is concentrated in the Maritimes, but it also has cable service in small communities in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.  

An Eastlink official said it is “close” to being able to offer cable channels including Treehouse, YTV, Oprah Winfrey Network and the Galaxy music channels.

When Eastlink Wireless launches it will become the country’s 10th carrier and the Maritime’s fourth.

Privately-held Eastlink is a member of the so-called “class of 2008” that bought spectrum in an auction that Industry Canada tailored to encourage the entry new entrants to challenge Bell, Rogers and Telus.

Others who bought spectrum in that auction and have launched service since then are Wind Mobile (December, 2009), Public Mobile (May, 2010) Mobilicity (May, 2010), and Videotron (Sept. 2010).
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However, Western-based cable company Shaw Communications is sitting on the $189.5 million in spectrum it bought. It decided to invest in a Wi-Fi network instead.

Despite the increased competition, Bell [BCE: TSX] Rogers [TSX: RCI.A] and Telus [TSX:T] still hold over 90 per cent of cellular subscribers.

Meanwhile Industry Canada has set another spectrum auction for the spring of 2013 to sell prized spectrum in the 700 MHz frequencies.

To spur more competition Ottawa has slightly opened foreign telecom investment to allow companies outside Canada to buy all of a Canadian carrier with less than 10 per cent of national telecom revenues.

So far no one has bit. Industry observers believe investors are waiting to see details of the licencing rules Industry Canada sets for the upcoming auction. In particular they want to see if the government will make it easier for new carriers to roam on the networks of incumbents and add antennas to their towers.
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