Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will direct the Federal Cabinet to review a March 1 decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that blocked mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) from permanent roaming access on the network of incumbent carriers.

Bains made the announcement on Monday morning at the Canadian Telecom Summit in Mississauga, Ont. Decision 56, involved Sugar Mobile, a subsidiary of Ice Wireless and mandatory wholesale access to Rogers Wireless network. Ice Wireless only operates in Canada’s remote northern regions, but through Sugar Mobile wanted to offer a low-cost wireless plan that would default to using Wi-Fi networks, and also leverage Rogers’ LTE network when that wasn’t available.

Since the CRTC decision, Ice Wireless has shut down Sugar Mobile. A Vancouver-based company, TNW Wireless, also launched earlier this year with a plan to use its spectrum along the Alaskan Highway to offer Wi-Fi based wireless services across Canada and the U.S.

WiFi-first plans are intended as low-price, low-usage plans that provide an affordable option on the wireless market, Bains said. He pointed to statistics showing that Canada had relatively high prices for wireless services compared to the U.S. or U.K. markets.

“We think this particular initiative will help deal with these low usage plans,” he said. “Middle-class Canadians are struggling, they are dealing with rising costs.”

The CRTC will now have less than one year to review its decision.

“We want them to come back to us by March 2018 and look at it in a broader context, and the implications it could have on investment,” Bains said.

Bains said there’s a lot of overlap between operators that rely on Wi-Fi first calling and MVNOs, saying it was mostly a difference in terminology. When asked if allowing carriers to operate virtual networks will affect investment to develop new spectrum, he said the upcoming 5G consultations would provide an opportunity to collect feedback.

“As we proceed with the 600 MHz consultation process, we’ll get feedback from the incumbents and non-incumbents as well. Bottom line though, we want to encourage as much competition as well in that process,” he said. “We’re trying to create a little bit more tension in the system where we want to see continued investment, but also some lower costs.”

The CRTC review was just one announcement the Minister made on Monday.

  • The government will also be “closely monitoring the CRTC review of cell phone unlocking. Last year Canadians paid $38 million to unlock their phones, Bains said.
  • An updated licencing process for low-earth satellite-based Internet providers to provide services to remote communities.
  • The government will begin the public consultation process on releasing spectrum to support development and deployment of 5G mobile networks.

“The 5G market is expected to be worth $36 billion globally by 2020 and Canada must be ready to compete,” he said.



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