Primus enters wireless fray

Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. Thursday launched a national cell phone service. Primus’ offerings will initially concentrate on the consumer market, but the company plans to introduce pooled-minute plans in the new year aimed at business customers.

Primus’ service is piggybacking on Microcell Telecommunications Inc.’s national wireless network. Although Primus’ offerings will compete with Microcell’s Fido service, Primus president Ted Chislett noted that selling network bandwidth to Primus will help Microcell recoup some of its network costs.

“It’s a channel for them,” he said. “We use different marketing vehicles and add different things so they can get better utilization of their network.”

One item that Primus hopes will set its service apart from the competition is the Air Miles it’s offering with its service bundles. Chislett doesn’t expect Rogers Wireless’ potential purchase of Microcell to affect Primus.

“We look forward to developing a good relationship with Rogers if that closes and I expect they’ll appreciate we can add customers to the network and help them grow as well,” he said.

Brian Sharwood, a principal with telecom consultancy the Seaboard Group in Toronto, said Canada has been late to adopt the idea of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) like Primus. MVNOs are companies that offer mobile services without owning wireless networks themselves.

The MVNO market is more evolved in Europe and the U.S., Sharwood noted. Primus is the first MVNO to enter the Canadian market. Media and transportation giant Virgin has also announced plans to enter the Canadian market next year, using Bell Canada’s wireless network.

MVNOs are generally good at serving niches, Sharwood said, pointing to the example of Boost Mobile in the U.S., which targets the youth market.

For Primus, which is selling a general service, wireless is just another offering the firm can bundle with its existing local, long-distance and broadband products, Sharwood said.

Primus will probably focus primarily on serving consumers, Sharwood believes, adding that there’s likely still an opportunity for a business-focused MVNO to enter the Canadian market.

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