Wind Mobile had its most successful year in its young life, the company said Wednesday, growing its subscriber base to over 590,400 at the end of 2012.
By comparision, at the end of 2011 the carrier that opened its doors in December 2009 had just over 402,000 subscribers.
“It was a banner year for us – our strategy to develop our postpaid customer base is clearly working,” COO Pietro Cordova, said in a news release. “We are excited to continue to perform successfully in 2013 as we work hard towards our goal of consolidating Wind Mobile as the only real alternative to incumbents for Canadians.”
He made the statement as parent company Orascom Telecom Holdings — which itself is owned by VimpelCom Ltd. –released its fourth quarter results. In 2008 Orascom, then a separate company, became the financial backer for Canadian Anthony Lacavera’s assault on incumbent wireless carriers through a partnership with Orascom called Globalive Wireless Management Corp. Lacavera was the controlling Canadian shareholder.
The Wind Mobile name is an Orascom trademark. VimpelCom bought most of Orascom’s assets in 2011. For the time being Orascom, which has telecom holdings in Algeria, Bangladesh, Africa and Canada, issues separate financial results from VimpelCom. Earlier this year Orascom announced it would buy out Lacavera’s stake.
What Cordova didn’t mention in his news release is that in the quarter Orascom wrote off US$339 million in accrued interest in Orascom’s loan to Wind’s overall parent, Globalive Investment Holding Corp. That still leaves the principal balance of US$770 million owing, which is money Orascom has poured into the startup. That includes some CDN$442 million on wireless spectrum.
In a conference call with financial analysts, Orascom CEO Ahmed Abou Doma didn’t make clear what Orascom has in mind for Wind after Ottawa approves the take-over. “We believe we stand as a very strong fourth (wireless) contender in Canada,” he said. On the other hand, he also said that “all our strategic options are open.”
Among the challenges Wind will face this year is finding tens of millions of dollars (at least) to buy spectrum in the 700 MHz auction, expected towards the end of the year. Like all carriers, Wind needs spectrum to keep up with subscriber growth and their appetite for consuming bandwidth with data. It also wants to continue building out its network. So far it hasn’t started building in the Maritimes, where it owns spectrum.
Orascom/VimpelCom’s options for Wind include putting more money into the division, merging with or buying startup Mobilicity — both own frequencies in the AWS spectrum — or selling to one of the big three carriers: Bell Mobility, Rogers Communications Inc. or Telus Corp. Under the rules of the 2008 auction, the incumbents can’t buy the spectrum of the startups until next year.
In a conference call with financial analysts VimpelCom CEO Jo Lunder said all options are open — continue growing Wind Mobile, sell out, or merge with a competitior.
“2013 is going to be an exciting year for the Canadian telecommunication market in general and for Wind Mobile in particular,” said Cordova. “We are continuing to improve our network across the country and are focused on delivering the best value for money proposition in the country.”
Wind added 79,954 subscribers during the fourth quarter. More than 70 per cent of the gross new subscribers were postpaid customers.
During the quarter Wind expanded its HSPA+ network to the Ontario cities of Peterborough and Windsor. The company says 14 million people can access its network in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.