As he waits for the federal cabinet to decide his startup wireless company’s fate, Anthony Lacavera says he’s determined the company will find a way to open for business – eventually.
“We’re not going to give up,” Lacavera, chairman of Globalive Wireless Management Corp., told an audience of wireless industry workers and businessmen Monday night. Launching service is “just a question of when.”
Globalive, which will go to market with the Wind Mobile brand, has already handed Ottawa a cheque for $442 million for its licences, signed contracts with equipment providers and begun construction of its network and hired some 800 staff and is “ready to launch services.”
Lacavera added he’s “unhappy” the company will apparently miss being able to start selling during the holiday season, one of the biggest times of the year for the wireless industry.
That’s because the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission refused in October to give Globalive its carrier licences because its Egyptian partner, Orascom Telecom S.A.E, has too much control.
The Harper cabinet has to decide if it will amend the decision or leave it untouched. Lacavera and a partner have 66 per cent of the voting shares of Globalive’s parent company, while Orascom has the rest. However, Orascom holds 65 per cent of the total equity, including all of Globalive’s $508 milllion debt, a $100 million services contract and control of its Wind Mobile brand.
While Industry Canada was satisfied Globalive met regulatory foreign ownership and control requirements and gave the startup its spectrum licences, the CRTC came to an opposite conclusion.
The commission outlined several ways Globalive could satisfy some concerns, but was silent on how much Canadian funding it would have to find to meet worries about the debt. However, Lacavera has said Canadian investors and lenders either don’t want to finance the company, or have been scared by the CRTC ruling.
The cabinet might point the way out of the logjam, but that would still leave Globalive with the problem of finding capital to replace Orascom’s.
Lacavera was addressing the monthly Mobile Monday Toronto meeting, a networking night for wireless application developers and investors. The crowd of some 150 people were supportive of his instance that incumbents Bell Canada Enterprises, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp. need competition to lower wireless fees.
One person in the audience went so far as to ask Lacavera why, with spectrum licences in hand and a network partly up, he didn’t just defy the CRTC and start selling phones.
Lacavera laughed and said that it would be better to be on the good side of the commission.
Considering that a confusing foreign ownership regulatory structure led to the conflicting government findings, Lacavera was surprisingly supporting of Canadian foreign control requirements.
“I think foreign ownership rules are important” to protect Canadian heritage, he told one persons who asked if the country needs the regulations. However, he acknowleged he couldn’t say exactly how they should be changed to also encourage foreign investment.
If and when it gets off the ground, Wind Mobile will offer unlimited voice plans, Lacavera said, but not unlimited data. He also said there won’t initially be a wide variety of handsets because the company’s licences cover the AWS spectrum, for which manufacturers are only starting to include chipsets for in their devices. For the time being that lets Apple’s iPhone out. However, it will have the latest models of BlackBerrys from Research In Motion.
While Lacavera said the company is ready to launch, he also said several elements still aren’t settled. For example, Wind Mobile will have a way of selling applications, videos and music, he said, but the platform hasn’t been settled yet. Nor has the company decided whether it will build its own applications store, or will use one from a vendor.
Nokia, for example, has its Ovi store.
As for how Wind Mobile will go to market, Lacavera said initially it will be through company-owned stores and kiosks, followed by availability in other retail outlets.
Globalive has spectrum covering most of the country except southern Quebec. It is expected that it will launch first in a few selected cities.