Eastlink to launch wireless service in 2012


Canada’s fifth new cellular service in two years will begin commercial service next year when the Eastlink Wireless division of cable operator Bragg Group launches cellular and data service.

The word came from a news release issued by Ericsson Canada, which said it has been chosen to be the core and access radio equipment provider for Eastlink Wireless when it starts next year.

Ericsson said Eastlink Wireless’s data network will use HSPA technology, which offers download speeds under ideal conditions of up to 84 Mpbs. However, most Canadian carriers using HSPA today run it at either 21 or 42 Mbps.

Headquartered in Halifax, Bragg has cable operations under the Eastlink name in 10 Canadian provinces. However, its main network is spread across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

A spokesman for Bragg said the company was busy Monday trying to help customers in southwestern Ontario, which was hit hard by a tornado on the weekend, and couldn’t provide a spokesman for comment on where and when service will be launched.

Eastlink has been involved indirectly in wireless for several years through a partnership with Rogers Communications Inc. Subscribers could buy a bundle of Eastlink cable, Internet and home phone service and get a 15 per cent discount on Rogers wireless service.

However, after spending millions of dollars buying spectrum in the 2008 AWS wireless auction, Bragg is almost ready to get into the game itself and go directly up against Rogers as well as its arch competitor, incumbent phone company Bell Alaint.

“What the (wireless) launch will give them is more flexibility to tailor their network to meet demand,” said Iain Grant, managing director of the Montreal-based SeaBoard Group telecommunications consultancy. Eastlink might also be more aggressive on its bundled pricing, he added.

In the 2008 wireless spectrum auction, Bragg spent about $10 million on blocks of 20 MHz and 10 Mhz blocks of spectrum in the 1700 and 2100 Mhz frequencies covering Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Northern Ontario.

It spent several million more on 10 MHz blocks of spectrum covering towns and cities in northern and southern Ontario and Alberta.

Other new entrants who also bought spectrum in the 2008 auction include Globalive Wireless Management Corp. (parent of Wind Mobile), Mobilicity, Public Mobile and Quebecor Media Inc. (parent of Quebec cable operator Videotron). They have since launched service.

The other major buyer of spectrum in that auction was Calgary-based cable operator Shaw Communications Inc., which has delayed the introduction of its wireless service several times. There are persistent rumours that it has struck a deal with Rogers to share the construction of a network.

Grant believes Shaw will start commercial wireless service before the end of the year, sharing a network with Rogers where that carrier has a developed infrastructure in Western Canada, allowing Shaw to expand the network outside of major cities..

A Shaw spokesman couldn’t be reached Monday for comment.

The Bragg Group is a privately-held, family owned conglomerate that includes a frozen food division. Eastlink Communications, the cable operations, has been buying up smaller cable companies across the country in the past several years.

It has also been heavily investing in upgrading its cable network for high speed Internet service and is now able to offer subscribers up to 100 Mpbs service. To meet the challenge the incumbent phone company, Bell Aliant, has been installing fibre to the home so it can offer speedy Internet as well as Internet protocol television (IPTV).

Eastlink Wireless is headed by Matthew MacLellan, who had been the corporate development officer at Bragg’s parent, Tidnish Holdings Ltd.