Who can take Virgin

In the battle for customers, wireless service providers have a new heavy-weight contender to deal with: Virgin Mobile Canada. Here’s what we think will happen as Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Rogers Wireless step into the ring to spar with Sir Richard Branson’s million-dollar baby.

Virgin versus Bell: draw

Bell is the mobile catchall, its tendrils stretching into many urban and rural areas, providing solid coverage and signal quality. But Bell is something of a commitment hog with contracts stretching as long as three years. Contract-phobic customers could defect to Virgin, which shares Bell’s robust network. Of course, Bell also owns part of Virgin in this country, so any improvement in the joint venture’s prospects is good for Bell. Bell’s customer list might be a bit shorter at the end of the bout with Virgin, but the fix is in either way.

Virgin versus Telus Mobility: fight called off

The western defender is safe from Virgin, and Virgin is safe from Telus. Telus aims for exclusive clientele, people willing to pay a premium and sign long contracts (three years) for strong signals and high-end handsets. The tactic seems to be working, as Telus touts a low customer churn rate. Virgin’s target audience is less affluent, less likely to commit to a carrier, and more contract phobic than is Telus’ aimed user base. These two service providers won’t even touch gloves.

Virgin versus Rogers: Virgin over Rogers, technical knockout

When Rogers bought Microcell Telecommunications Inc. (“Fido”) last year, common wisdom said the firm was beefing up its portfolio to battle Virgin. Fido and Virgin go for the same kind of customer: young; urban; hates contracts; price sensitive. Fido had a strong right hook in its CityFido plan, a landline replacement product for $45 a month offering unlimited local calls. But Rogers euthanized that puppy earlier this year, taking unlimited local service off the offering. So much for the right hook. Now Fido is more of a sitting duck and less of a territory-defending pit bull. One swift marketing thwack from Virgin and this dog is going down.

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