Ottawa has approved the restructuring of Wind Mobile’s ownership. Now the question is what direction the new shareholders will point the company to.
So far, though, chairman and former CEO Anthony Lacavera isn’t saying much. “No further announcements on a business plan right now,” he said in an interview this morning. “We are the fourth carrier in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, we’re going to pass 800,000 subscribers by year end, the company’s on a vey solid, profitable growth track. We continue to roll out our network.
“We plan to acquire in the months and years sufficient spectrum for LTE and roll it out.”
Industry Minister James Moore said Tuesday that AAL Acquistions Corp.’s application to buy majority control of the startup carrier has been okayed, after giving commitments that the company will keep its head office here, ensure a majority of head office staff are Canadian, and to “significantly invest capital with the aim of purchasing spectrum and growing Wind Mobile’s business across Canada.”
This last commitment is crucial: It means Wind’s new majority owners have promised they’re not going to run the company as it is but will participate in upcoming spectrum auctions. Wind sat out the 700 MHz auction earlier this year because its biggest equity holder, Amsterdam-based VimpelCom Corp., wouldn’t give it the millions needed to bid. Without enough spectrum a carrier can’t grow. But also the fewer bidders the less money Ottawa gets.
VimpelCom and its predecessor, Orascom Telecom Holdings, had sunk some $1.6 billion into spectrum and building Wind’s network in parts of B.C., Alberta and Ontario. But when VimpleCom wanted to buy out its Canadian partners, led by chairman and CEO Anthony Lacavera, to facilitate selling the Canadian company Ottawa said no. Stuck with an asset that was hard to out of, VimpelCom decided to stop investing in it.
That should change with the new investors. The solution was for Lacavera to buy VimpelCom’s share of the company, which was then transferred to AAL. That section of the deal needed federal approval. The consortium is paying $135 million in cash and assuming $160 million in debt.
The new investors include Toronto-based hedge fund West Face Capital, California-based private equity firm Tennenbaum Capital Partners, LG Capital Investors, Novus Wireless Communications of Vancouver and Serruya Private Equity.
Lacavera wouldn’t say who the majority owner is or the ownership structure. “We’re discussing financing alternatives and we feel it’s not the right time to go beyond what we’ve disclosed already.”
Wind has some 750,000 subscribers in three provinces and has tough decisions to make for the future: Focus only on one province, decide which of the existing provinces its in to expand in and where, decide whether to continue with plans to start service in the Maritimes, where it has spectrum, partner with Quebecor, which owns spectrum in several provinces or buy financially-troubled Mobilicity.
In a note to investors Tuesday, Dvai Ghose, head of research at Canaccord Genuity, questioned why Wind can succeed without VimpleCom, a rich global telecom company. Lacavera disagreed. “There’s 800,000 customers that do think Wind is successful and have a good value for money choice.”