Woodstock, N.B.-based Xplornet Communications Inc. will use the new LTE spectrum it acquires from Bell MTS to launch fixed wireless broadband and mobile wireless services across Manitoba within 12 months time, according to the carrier.

Currently providing fixed wireless broadband Internet as well as satellite Internet across Manitoba’s rural areas, Xplornet will be getting a major boost to its business after March 17 when BCE Inc. takes ownership of leading provincial telecom services provider MTS Inc. To appease regulators to complete the deal, Bell agreed to sell 40 MHz of spectrum, 24,7000 subscribers, and six retail stores to Xplornet.

The deal, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, was overseen by the Competition Bureau.

“The Bureau’s investigation of the proposed merger determined that it would result in the removal of a strong regional competitor that was effective in constraining the price of Bell, Rogers, and Telus products,” the Competition Bureau says in a press release. “The removal of MTS would likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition for retail wireless services in Manitoba. This would likely lead to higher prices and fewer options.”

Bell CEO George Cope committed to keep current MTS wireless price plans for 12 months after closing the acquisition, according to a statement in a press release.

It falls to Xplornet’s new service to make up for that competitive shortfall, and James Maunder, vice-president of public affairs and communications at Xplornet, says that service should be up and running within about 12 months time.

“It’s clear the Bureau was interested in creating the conditions in Manitoba for a fourth wireless player,” he says. “We’re going to get to work now that this announcement has been made. We’re going to build, both in rural and urban Manitoba, an LTE infrastructure.”

Xplornet hasn’t disclosed any decisions about how it will build out its LTE network. But it plans to extend the offering of the fixed broadband wireless services in Manitoba using Bell’s new spectrum. The new mobile wireless service will support “all of the latest handsets,” Maunder adds.

Xplornet’s not ready to share what its mobile wireless plans and packages will look like. Maunder says that a serious entrant to the market would be competitive in terms of pricing and also offer competitive data plans.

“Manitobans will be pleased with what they see when we roll out that service,” he says.

Bell wasn’t surprised that it had to part with its spectrum, says Mirko Bibic, chief legal and regulatory officer at BCE Inc. Both it and MTS were at the cap for the province.

“We tried to get an exemption, but didn’t really think that would happen,” he says.

Bell MTS must also provide “transitional remedy network access” to Xplornet for three years as it builds out its own infrastructure. That could help it launch a mobile service more quickly.

The measures to ensure competition taken by federal regulators don’t go far enough for consumer advocacy group OpenMedia. The group put out a statement forecasting a sharp increase in mobile wireless service prices in the province for consumers and business users.

“This is a real step backward,” says David Christopher, communications manager of Open Media. “Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been some of the shining lights, the evidence that more competition means lower prices for Canadians.”

The Xplornet deal is “far too little,” he says and it could Xplornet “years to get established.”

Xplornet could offer its mobile services to businesses as well, Maunder says, as its commercial services department currently offers Internet to business customers. The company’s first mobile customers may be Manitobans that are already subscribing to its rural Internet services, he says.



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