Industry Canada names spectrum auction applicants

The players are at the table, and there are a couple of surprising faces looking to be dealt into Industry Canada’s advanced wireless spectrum (AWS) auction.

No-surprise bidders like MTS Allstream (fronting a consortium that includes Canada Pension Plan and Blackstone Group) and Quebecor subsidiary Videotron have been joined by Halifax-based privately owned EastLink, Globalive, parent company of alternative carrier Yak Communications, and Calgary-based cable company Shaw Communications, which has in the past seemed indifferent to wireless.

Last week, Industry Canada released a list of the companies who had filed a deposit in order to participate in the 2.4 GHz spectrum auction, scheduled for this May. At the end of March, Industry Canada will announce who among the applicants qualifies to bid.

Globalive is the Canadian face of an international syndicate funded by Weather Investments (owners of Wind telecom operations in Italy and Greece) and alternative investment firm Novator (which recently established 3G wireless operations in Poland and Iceland, along with investments in several other European carriers).

“Obviously, (the consortium members) have got some experience. And certainly, what the government was looking for was for Canadian networks to resemble those of Greece and Italy, and not Gabon,” said Iain Grant, principal of telecom consulting firm The SeaBoard Group.

EastLink said in a press release the company “does not intend to provide further comment regarding our plans surrounding the auction.” It’s not clear whether EastLink is bidding for spectrum nationwide or regionally. Under the spectrum auction rules, bidders can buy spectrum in three tiers: national, regional (by province or, in the cases of Ontario and Quebec, large portions of a province) and metropolitan.

Lawrence Surtees, vice-president and principal analyst for IDC Canada’s Canadian Communications Practice, said EastLink would be “hard-pressed” to play on a national stage as a wireless carrier.

Grant figured that the structure of the auction would encourage smaller players to bid to compete in a city-by-city or town-by-town basis.

Wireless broadband provider SSI Micro of Yellowknife, for example, will be bidding in the auction. “The most interesting thing about the list is guys like SSI Micro can make a go of it. You can bid for just Brandon, Man., if that’s all you want,” Grant said.

On the other hand, for a regional tier, companies would be bidding against deeper pockets.

Surtees said he sided with analysts who called Shaw’s bid “speculative,” since CEO Jim Shaw has in the past said the company is comfortable offering the triple-play of cable, digital phone and Internet, and doesn’t feel it’s necessary to deliver wireless as well.

Videotron had planned to be a regional carrier in Quebec, but “exceptionally favourable conditions for new entrants, which may never occur again,” convinced the company to go national, said CEO Pierre Karl P