TNW Wireless asks CRTC to compel Bell, Telus to make wholesale roaming agreements

A wireless provider that wants to offer data-only phone subscriptions across Canada is appealing to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to compel Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility to provide it wholesale roaming agreements.

The application filed July 4 says that Toronto-based TNW Wireless also wants the CRTC to rule that its unique method of providing over-the-top voice and text services to subscribers is compliant with rules and regulations around wireless roaming in Canada. TNW says that Bell and Telus have so far denied it roaming access because it will allow “permanent roaming” – in other words, subscribers would always be using the Bell or Telus network and not TNW’s network.

But according to Lawry Trevor-Deutsch, chairman and president of TNW Wireless, TNW has provided evidence that won’t be the case.

“We believe it’s not within their rights to refuse on the basis of misuse that may occur in the future,” he said in an interview with IT World Canada. “We are both within the letter and the spirit of the law.”

TNW hasn’t made an agreement with Rogers Wireless for roaming access either, but it wants to focus on Bell and Telus first. Those networks provide wireless access along the Alaskan Highway corridor in Northern B.C. and the Yukon, where TNW owns its spectrum.

“We first need to offer full service within our territory,” Trevor-Deutsch says.

The CRTC ruled in March that Toronto-based carrier Sugar Mobile wasn’t allowed to offer services to Canadians outside of its coverage area in the territories. It said that Sugar was allowing its subscribers to obtain permanent access to Rogers network, rather than the incidental access that would be involved in a roaming scenario.

But at the beginning of June, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced the government is asking the CRTC to review that decision. That’s good news for TNW’s prospects, says Trevor-Deutsch.

“You have incumbents that have a lot of benefits from having regulations to protect their environment,” he says. “The minister is looking for a balance between the regulatory environment and a public policy that allows better access to mobile services.”

TNW says that its proprietary iPCS “smartphone-over-IP” technology that allows for its subscribers to connect to a WiFi network to route voice calls and text messages over the spectrum that it owns in Northern B.C. and the Yukon. Their subscription plans provide a finite amount of data that is consumed over the month on whatever the customer chooses. When a WiFi connection isn’t available, TNW would need a wholesale roaming agreement with a local network provider to provide service.

iPCS network coverage - TNW Wireless
A TNW Wireless graphic illustrates how its iPCS technology works.

“People are on WiFi most of the day, so we don’t really have a real concern that people are permanently roaming,” Trevor-Deutsch says.

The real concern of incumbers, he says, is to continue avoiding competition in the lucrative wireless business. “As far as I can see it’s their highest profit margin, it’s not like they’re struggling.”

TNW Wireless was acquired by Miami-based United American Corp. on June 28. Trevor-Deutsch says the deal was done for the purpose of bringing TNW onto the public market, to set it up for fundraising. While a registered office for the company will be in Miami, there’s no change in control of the company and it’s still owned by the same shareholders. TNW Wireless says its head office is now in Toronto, although it was previously based in Vancouver.

Telus supplied a statement to IT World Canada on the matter.

“TNW Wireless has not provided TELUS with sufficient information to confirm TNW Wireless’ eligibility under the current rules governing the mandatory roaming service that it is requesting. We look forward to responding to TNW Wireless’ application and participating in the CRTC’s upcoming review of the rules, as directed by the federal government,” wrote a company spokesperson.

Bell also responded saying it will reply to TNW’s application through the upcoming CRTC review.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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